The Project Gutenberg EBook of My Life In The South, by Jacob Stroyer
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Title: My Life In The South
Author: Jacob Stroyer
Release Date: February 18, 2005 [EBook #15096]
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MY LIFE IN THE SOUTH.
[Illustration: JACOB STROYER.]
MY LIFE IN THE SOUTH.
NEW AND ENLARGED EDITION.
Newcomb & Gauss, Printers.
* * * * *
Salem, Mass., September 19, 1898.
Mr. Stroyer's account of his experience in slavery and during the war is
of great interest and value as a trustworthy description of the
condition and life of slaves _by one of themselves_. His memory is
remarkably keen and his narrative vivid and at times both touching and
thrilling. The book is a great credit to its author and deserves a
generous reception and a wide circulation.
John Wright Buckham.
* * * * *
August 13, 1879.
In this book Mr. Stroyer has given us, with a most simple and effective
realism, the inside view of the institution of slavery. It is worth
reading, to know how men, intelligent enough to report their experience,
felt under the yoke. The time has come when American slavery can be
studied historically, without passion, save such as mixes itself with
the wonder that so great an evil could exist so long as a social form or
a political idol. The time has not come when such study is unnecessary;
for to deal justly by white or black in the United States, their
previous relations must be understood, and nothing which casts light on
the most universal and practical of those relations is without value
today. I take pleasure, therefore, in saying that I consider Mr. Stroyer
a competent and trustworthy witness to these details of plantation life.
* * * * *
City of Salem, Mayor's Office,
Nov. 5, 1884.
This is to certify that since the year 1876 I have known Rev. Jacob
Stroyer as a preacher and minister to the colored people of this city.
He is earnest, devoted and faithful.
He is endeavoring by the sale of this book to realize the means to
enable him, by a course of study, to better fit himself as a minister to
preach in the South.
I most cheerfully commend him in his praiseworthy efforts.
Wm. M. Hill, _Mayor_.
* * * * *
Mr. Stroyer's book is a setting forth in a fresh and unique manner of
the old and bitter wrongs of American slavery. It is an inside view of a
phase of our national life which has happily passed away forever.
Although it concerns itself largely with incidents and details, it is
not without the historical value which attaches to reliable personal
reminiscences. The author has made commendable progress in intellectual
culture, and is worthy of generous assistance in his effort to fit
himself still more perfectly for labor among his needy brethren in the
* * * * *
When the author first presented his book to the public he did not
anticipate the very great favor with which it would be received. The
first edition was soon disposed of, a second and a third were called
for, and those were as generously received as had been their
predecessors. The present edition, the fourth, besides all that was in
those former publications, contains some new material relating to the
author's personal experiences in the Civil War.
Thanking the people for the support given, and hoping that this latest
effort will meet approval, the author presents the story of himself and
his once oppressed brethren.
My father was born in Sierra Leone, Africa. Of his parents and his
brothers and sisters I know nothing. I only remember that it was said
that his father's name was Moncoso, and his mother's Mongomo, which
names are known only among the native Africans. He was brought from
Africa when but a boy, and sold to old Colonel Dick Singleton, who owned
a great many plantations in South Carolina, and when the old colonel
divided his property among his children, father fell to the second son,
Col. M.R. Singleton.
Mother never was sold, but her parents were; they were owned by one Mr.
Crough, who sold them and the rest of the slaves, with the plantation,
to Col. Dick Singleton, upon whose place mother was born. I was born on
this extensive plantation, twenty-eight miles southeast of Columbia,
South Carolina, in the year 1849. I belonged to Col. M.R. Singleton, and
was held in slavery up to the time of the emancipation proclamation
issued by President Lincoln.
My father had fifteen children: four boys and three girls by his first
wife and eight by his second. Their names were as follows: of the
boys--Toney, Aszerine, Duke and Dezine; of the girls--Violet, Priscilla,
and Lydia. Those of his second wife were as follows: Footy, Embrus,
Caleb, Mitchell, Cuffey and Jacob, and of the girls, Catherine and
SAND HILL DAYS.
Col. M.R. Singleton was like many other rich slave owners in the South,
who had summer seats four, six or eight miles from the plantation, where
they carried the little negro boys and girls too small to work.
Our summer seat, or the sand hill, as the slaves used to call it, was
four miles from the plantation. Among the four hundred and sixty-five
slaves owned by the colonel there were a great many children. If my
readers had visited Col. Singleton's plantation the last of May or the
first of June in the days of slavery, they would have seen three or four
large plantation wagons loaded with little negroes of both sexes, of
various complexions and conditions, who were being carried to this
summer residence, and among them they would have found the author of
this little work in his sand-hill days.
My readers would naturally ask how many seasons these children were
taken to the summer seats? I answer, until, in the judgment of the
overseer, they were large enough to work; then they were kept at the
plantation. How were they fed? There were three or four women who were
too old to work on the plantation who were sent as nurses to the summer
seats with the children; they did the cooking. The way in which these
old women cooked for 80, and sometimes 150 children, in my sand-hill
days, was this:--they had two or three large pots, which held about a
bushel each, in which they used to cook corn flour, stirred with large
wooden paddles. The food was dealt out with the paddles into each
child's little wooden tray or tin pail, which was furnished by the
parents according to their ability.
With this corn flour, which the slaves called mush, each child used to
get a gill of sour milk brought daily from the plantation in a large
wooden pail on the head of a boy or man. We children used to like the
sour milk, or hard clabber as it was called by the slaves; but that
seldom changed diet, namely the mush, was hated worse than medicine. Our
hatred was increased against the mush from the fact that they used to
give us molasses to eat with it, instead of clabber. The hateful mixture
made us anxious for Sundays to come, when our mothers, fathers, sisters
and brothers would bring something from the plantation, which, however
poor, we considered very nice, compared with what we had during the week
days. Among the many desirable things our parents brought us the most
delightful was cow pease, rice, and a piece of bacon, cooked together;
the mixture was called by the slaves "hopping John."
THE STORY OF GILBERT.
A few large boys were sent yearly to the sand-hill among the smaller
ones, as guides. At the time to which I am referring there was one by
the name of Gilbert, who used to go around with the smaller boys in the
woods to gather bushes and sticks for the old women to cook our food
Gilbert was a cruel boy. He used to strip his little fellow negroes
while in the woods, and whip them two or three times a week, so that
their backs were all scarred, and threatened them with severer
punishment if they told; this state of things had been going on for
quite a while. As I was a favorite with Gilbert, I always had managed to
escape a whipping, with the promise of keeping the secret of the
punishment of the rest, which I did, not so much that I was afraid of
Gilbert, as because I always was inclined to mind my own business. But
finally, one day, Gilbert said to me, "Jake," as he used to call me,
"you am a good boy, but I'm gwine to wip you some to-day, as I wip dem
toder boys." Of course I was required to strip off my only garment,
which was an Osnaburg linen shirt, worn by both sexes of the negro
children in the summer. As I stood trembling before my merciless
superior, who had a switch in his hand, thousands of thoughts went
through my little mind as to how to get rid of the whipping. I finally
fell upon a plan which I hoped would save me from a punishment that was
near at hand. There were some carpenters in the woods, some distance
from us, hewing timber; they were far away, but it was a clear morning,
so we could hear their voices and the sound of the axes. Having resolved
in my mind what I would do. I commenced reluctantly to take off my
shirt, at the same time pleading with Gilbert, who paid no attention to
my prayer, but said, "Jake, I is gwine to wip you to-day as I did dem
toder boys." Having satisfied myself that no mercy was to be found with
Gilbert, I drew my shirt off and threw it over his head, and bounded
forward on a run in the direction of the sound of the carpenters. By the
time he got from the entanglement of my garment, I had quite a little
start of him. Between my starting point and the place where the
carpenters were at work I jumped over some bushes five or six feet high.
Gilbert soon gained upon me, and sometimes touched me with his hands,
but as I had on nothing for him to hold to, he could not take hold of
me. As I began to come in sight of the carpenters, Gilbert begged me not
to go to them, for he knew that it would be bad for him, but as that was
not a time for me to listen to his entreaties, I moved on faster. As I
got near to the carpenters, one of them ran and met me, into whose arms
I jumped. The man into whose arms I ran was Uncle Benjamin, my mother's
uncle. As he clasped me in his arms, he said, "Bres de Lo, my son, wat
is de matter?" But I was so exhausted that it was quite a while before I
could tell him my trouble; when recovered from my breathless condition,
I told him that Gilbert had been in the habit of stripping the boys and
whipping them two or three times a week, when we went into the woods,
and threatened them with greater punishment if they told. I said he had
never whipped me before, but I was cautioned to keep the secret, which I
had done up to this time; but he said he was going to whip me this
morning, so I threw my shirt over his head and ran here for protection.
Gilbert did not follow me after I got in sight of the carpenters, but
sneaked away. Of course my body was all bruised and scratched by the
bushes. Acting as a guide for Uncle Benjamin, I took him to where I had
left my garment.
At this time the children were scattered around in the woods, waiting
for what the trouble would bring; They all were gathered up and taken to
the sand-hill house, examined, and it was found, as I have stated, that
their backs were all scarred. Gilbert was brought to trial, severely
whipped, and they made him beg all the children to pardon him for his
treatment to them. But he never was allowed to go into the woods with
the rest of the children during that season. My sand-hill associates
always thanked me for the course I took, which saved them and myself
from further punishment by him.
MASTER AND MISTRESS VISITING.
When master and mistress were to visit their little negroes at the
sand-hill, the news was either brought by the overseer who resided at
the above named place, and went back and forth to the plantation, or by
one of master's house servants, a day ahead. The preparation required to
receive our white guests was that each little negro was to be washed,
and clad in the best dress he or she had. But before this was done, the
unsuccessful attempt was made to straighten out our unruly wools with
some small cards, or Jim-Crows as we called them.
On one occasion an old lady, by the name of Janney Cuteron, attempted to
straighten out my wool with one of those Jim-crows; as she hitched the
teeth of the instrument in my unyielding wool with her great masculine
hand, of course I was jerked flat on my back. This was the common fate
of most of my associates, whose wools were of the same nature, but with
a little water and the strong application of the Jim-crow, the old lady
soon combed out my wool into some sort of shape.
As our preparations were generally completed three-quarters of an hour
before our guests came, we were placed in line, the boys together and
the girls by themselves. We were then drilled in the art of addressing
our expected visitors. The boys were required to bend the body forward
with head down, and rest the body on the left foot, and scrape the
right foot backward on the ground, while uttering the words, "how dy
Massie and Missie." The girls were required to use the same words,
accompanied with a courtesy. But when Master and Mistress had left, the
little African wools were neglected until the news of their next visit.
Our sand-hill days were very pleasant, outside of the seldom changed
diet, namely the mush, which we had sometimes to eat with molasses, the
treatment of Gilbert, and the attempt to straighten out our unruly
I said that my father was brought from Africa when but a boy, and was
sold to old Col. Dick Singleton; and when the children were of age, the
Colonel divided his plantations among them, and father fell to Col. M.K.
Singleton, who was the second son.
On this large plantation there were 465 slaves; there were not so many
when it was given to Col. M.R., but increased to the above stated
number, up to the time of emancipation.
My father was not a field hand; my first recollection of him was that he
used to take care of hogs and cows in the swamp, and when too old for
that work he was sent to the plantation to take care of horses and
mules, as master had a great many for the use of his farm.
I have stated that father said that his father's name in Africa was
Moncoso, and his mother's Mongomo, but I never learned what name he went
by before he was brought to this country. I only know that he stated
that Col. Dick Singleton gave him the name of William, by which he was
known up to the day of his death. Father had a surname, Stroyer, which
he could not use in public, as the surname Stroyer would be against the
law; he was known only by the name of William Singleton, because that
was his master's name. So the title Stroyer was forbidden him, and could
be used only by his children after the emancipation of the slaves.
There were two reasons given by the slave holders why they did not allow
a slave to use his own name, but rather that of the master. The first
was that, if he ran away, he would not be so easily detected by using
his own name as by that of his master. The second was that to allow him
to use his own name would be sharing an honor which was due only to his
master, and that would be too much for a negro, said they, who was
nothing more than a servant. So it was held as a crime for a slave to be
caught using his own name, a crime which would expose him to severe
punishment. But thanks be to God that those days have passed, and we now
live under the sun of liberty.
Mother's name was Chloe. She belonged to Col. M.R. Singleton too; she
was a field hand, and never was sold, but her parents were once.
Mr. Crough who, as I have said had owned this plantation on which mother
lived, had sold the plantation to Col. Dick Singleton, with mother's
parents on it, before she was born.
Most of the family from which mother came, had trades of some kind; some
were carpenters, some were blacksmiths, some house servants, and others
were made drivers over the other negroes. Of course the negro drivers
would be under a white man, who was called the overseer. Sometimes the
negro drivers were a great deal worse to their fellow negroes than were
the white men.
Mother had an uncle by the name of Esau, whom master thought more of
than he did of the overseer. Uncle Esau was more cruel than was any
white man master ever had on his plantation. Many of the slaves used to
run away from him into the woods. I have known some of the negroes to
run away from the cruel treatment of Uncle Esau, and to stay off eight
or ten months. They were so afraid of him that they used to say that
they would rather see the devil than to see him; they were glad when he
died. But while so much was said of Uncle Esau, which was also true of
many other negro drivers, the overseers themselves were not guiltless of
cruelty to the defenceless slaves.
I have said that most of the family from which mother came had trades of
some kind; but she had to take her chance in the field with those who
had to weather the storm. But my readers are not to think that those
whom I have spoken of as having trades were free from punishment, for
they were not; some of them had more trouble than had the field hands.
At times the overseer, who was a white man, would go to the shop of the
blacksmith, or carpenter, and would pick a quarrel with him, so as to
get an opportunity to punish him. He would say to the negro, "Oh, ye
think yourself as good as ye master, ye--" Of course he knew what the
overseer was after, so he was afraid to speak; the overseer, hearing no
answer, would turn to him and cry out, "ye so big ye can't speak to me,
ye--," and then the conflict would begin, and he would give that man
such a punishment as would disable him for two or three months. The
merciless overseer would say to him, "Ye think because ye have a trade
ye are as good as ye master, ye--; but I will show ye that ye are
nothing but a nigger."
I said that my father had two wives and fifteen children: four boys and
three girls by the first, and six boys and two girls by the second wife.
Of course he did not marry his wives as they do now, as it was not
allowed among the slaves, but he took them as his wives by mutual
agreement. He had my mother after the death of his first wife. I am the
third son of his second wife.
My readers would very naturally like to know whether some of the slaves
did not have more than one woman. I answer, they had; for as they had no
law to bind them to one woman, they could have as many as they pleased
by mutual agreement. But notwithstanding, they had a sense of the moral
law, for many of them felt that it was right to have but one woman; they
had different opinions about plurality of wives, as have the most
educated and refined among the whites.
I met one of my fellow negroes one day, who lived next neighbor to us,
and I said to him, "Well, Uncle William, how are you, to-day?" His
answer was "Thank God, my son, I have two wives now, and must try and
make out with them until I get some more." But while you will find many
like him, others would rebuke the idea of having more than one wife.
But, thanks be to God, the day has come when no one need to plead
ignorance, for master and servant are both bound by the same law.
I did not go to the sand-hill, or summer seat, my alloted time, but
stopped on the plantation with father, as I said that he used to take
care of horses and mules. I was around with him in the barn yard when
but a very small boy; of course that gave me an early relish for the
occupation of hostler, and I soon made known my preference to Col.
Singleton, who was a sportsman, and an owner of fine horses. And,
although I was too small to work, the Colonel granted my request; hence
I was allowed to be numbered among those who took care of the fine
horses, and learned to ride. But I soon found that my new occupation
demanded a little more than I cared for.
It was not long after I had entered my new work before they put me upon
the back of a horse which threw me to the ground almost as soon as I had
reached his back. It hurt me a little, but that was not the worst of it,
for when I got up there was a man standing near with a switch, in hand,
and he immediately began to beat me. Although I was a very bad boy, this
was the first time I had been whipped by any one except father and
mother, so I cried out in a tone of voice as if I would say, this is the
first and last whipping you will give me when father gets hold of you.
When I had got away from him I ran to father with all my might, but soon
found my expectation blasted, as father very coolly said to me, "Go back
to your work and be a good boy, for I cannot do anything for you." But
that did not satisfy me, so on I went to mother with my complaint and
she came out to the man who had whipped me; he was a groom, a white man
master had hired to train the horses. Mother and he began to talk, then
he took a whip and started for her, and she ran from him, talking all
the time. I ran back and forth between mother and him until he stopped
beating her. After the fight between the groom and mother, he took me
back to the stable yard and gave me a severe flogging. And, although
mother failed to help me at first, still I had faith that when he had
taken me back to the stable yard, and commenced whipping me, she would
come and stop him, but I looked in vain, for she did not come.
Then the idea first came to me that I, with my dear father and mother
and the rest of my fellow negroes, was doomed to cruel treatment through
life, and was defenceless. But when I found that father and mother could
not save me from punishment, as they themselves had to submit to the
same treatment, I concluded to appeal to the sympathy of the groom, who
seemed to have full control over me; but my pitiful cries never touched
his sympathy, for things seemed to grow worse rather than better; so I
made up my mind to stem the storm the best I could.
I have said that Col. Singleton had fine horses, which he kept for
racing, and he owned two very noted ones, named Capt. Miner and
Inspector. Perhaps some of my readers have already heard of Capt. Miner,
for he was widely known, having won many races in Charlestown and
Columbia, S.C., also in Augusta, Ga., and New York. He was a dark bay,
with short tail. Inspector was a chestnut sorrel, and had the reputation
of being a very great horse. These two horses have won many thousand
dollars for the the colonel. I rode these two horses a great many times
in their practice gallops, but never had the opportunity to ride them
in a race before Col. Singleton died, for he did not live long after I
had learned so that I could ride for money. The custom was, that when a
boy had learned the trade of a rider, he would have to ride what was
known as a trial, in the presence of a judge, who would approve or
disapprove his qualifications to be admitted as a race rider, according
to the jockey laws of South Carolina at that time.
I have said that I loved the business and acquired the skill very early,
and this enabled me to pass my examination creditably, and to be
accepted as a capable rider, but I passed through some very severe
treatment before reaching that point.
This white man who trained horses for Col. Singleton was named Boney
Young; he had a brother named Charles, who trained for the colonel's
brother, John Singleton. Charles was a good man, but Boney our trainer,
was as mean as Charles was good; he could smile in the face of one who
was suffering the most painful death at his hands.
One day, about two weeks after Boney Young and mother had the conflict,
he called me to him, as though he were in the pleasantest mood; he was
singing. I ran to him as if to say by action, I will do anything you bid
me, willingly. When I got to him he said, "Go and bring me a switch,
sir." I answered, "yes, sir," and off I went and brought him one; then
he said, "come in here, sir;" I answered, "yes, sir;" and I went into a
horse's stall, but while I was going in a thousand thoughts passed
through my mind as to what he wanted me to go into the stall for, but
when I had got in I soon learned, for he gave me a first-class
A day or to after that he called me in the same way, and I went again,
and he sent me for a switch. I brought him a short stubble that was worn
out, which he took and beat me on the head with. Then he said to me, "Go
and bring me a switch, sir;" I answered "Yes, sir;" and off I went the
second time, and brought him one very little better than the first; he
broke that over my head also, saying, "Go and bring me a switch, sir;" I
answered, "Yes, sir," and off I went the third time, and brought one
which I supposed would suit him. Then he said to me, "Come in here,
sir." I answered, "Yes, sir." When I went into the stall, he told me to
lie down, and I stooped down; he kicked me around for a while, then,
making me lie on my face, he whipped me to his satisfaction.
That evening when I went home to father and mother, I said to them, "Mr.
Young is whipping me too much now, I shall not stand it, I shall fight
him." Father said to me, "You must not do that, because if you do he
will say that your mother and I advised you to do it, and it will make
it hard for your mother and me, as well as for yourself. You must do as
I told you, my son: do your work the best you can, and do not say
anything." I said to father, "But I don't know what I have done that he
should whip me; he does not tell me what wrong I have done, he simply
calls me to him and whips me when he gets ready." Father said, "I can do
nothing more than to pray to the Lord to hasten the time when these
things shall be done away; that is all I can do." When mother had
stripped me and looked at the wounds that were upon me she burst into
tears, and said, "If he were not so small I would not mind it so much;
this will break his constitution; I am going to master about it, because
I know he will not allow Mr. Young to treat this child so."
And I thought to myself that had mother gone to master about it, it
would have helped me some, for he and she had grown up together and he
thought a great deal of her. But father said to mother, "You better not
go to master, for while he might stop the child from being treated
badly, Mr. Young may revenge himself through the overseer, for you know
that they are very friendly to each other." So said father to mother,
"You would gain nothing in the end; the best thing for us to do is to
pray much over it, for I believe that the time will come when this boy
with the rest of the children will be free, though we may not live to
When father spoke of liberty his words were of great comfort to me, and
my heart swelled with the hope of a future, which made every moment seem
an hour to me.
Father had a rule, which was strictly carried out as far as possible
under the slave law, which was to put his children to bed early; but
that night the whole family sat up late, while father and mother talked
over the matter. It was a custom among the slaves not to allow their
children under certain ages to enter into conversation with them; hence
we could take no part with father and mother. As I was the object of
their sympathy, I was allowed the privilege of answering the questions
about the whipping the groom gave me.
When the time came for us to go to bed we all knelt down in family
prayer, as was our custom; father's prayer seemed more real to me that
night than ever before, especially in the words, "Lord, hasten the time
when these children shall be their own free men and women."
My faith in father's prayer made me think that the Lord would answer him
at the farthest in two or three weeks, but it was fully six years before
it came, and father had been dead two years before the war.
After prayer we all went to bed; next morning father went to his work in
the barn-yard, mother to hers in the field, and I to mine among the
horses; before I started, however, father charged me carefully to keep
his advice, as he said that would be the easiest way for me to get
But in spite of father's advice, I had made up my mind not to submit to
the treatment of Mr. Young as before, seeing that it did not help me
any. Things went smoothly for a while, until he called me to him, and
ordered me to bring him a switch. I told him that I would bring him no
more switches for him to whip me with, but that he must get them
himself. After repeating the command very impatiently, and I refusing,
he called to another boy named Hardy, who brought the switch, and then
taking me into the stall he whipped me unmercifully.
After that he made me run back and forth every morning from a half to
three quarters of an hour about two hundred and fifty yards, and every
now and then he would run after me, and whip me to make me run faster.
Besides that, when I was put upon a horse, if it threw me he would whip
me, if it were five times a day. So I did not gain anything by refusing
to bring switches for him to whip me with.
One very cold morning in the month of March, I came from home without
washing my face, and Mr. Young made two of the slave boys take me down
to a pond where the horses and mules used to drink; they threw me into
the water and rubbed my face with sand until it bled, then I was made to
run all the way to the stable, which was about a quarter of a mile. This
cruel treatment soon hardened me so that I did not care for him at all.
A short time afterwards I was sent with the other boys about four or
five miles from home, up the public road, to practice the horse, and
they gave me a very wild animal to ride, which threw me very often. Mr.
Young did not go with us, but sent a colored groom every morning, who
was very faithful to every task alloted him; he was instructed to whip
me every time the horse threw me while away from home. I got many little
floggings by the colored groom, as the horse threw me, a great many
times, but the floggings I got from him were very feeble compared with
those of the white man; hence I was better content to go away with the
colored groom than to be at home where I should have worse punishment.
But the time was coming when they ceased to whip me for being thrown by
horses. One day, as I was riding along the road, the horse that I was
upon darted at the sight of a bird, which flew across the way, throwing
me upon a pile of brush. The horse stepped on my cheek, and the head of
a nail in his shoe went through my left cheek and broke a tooth, but it
was done so quickly that I hardly felt it. It happened that he did not
step on me with his whole weight, if he had my jaw would have been
broken. When I got up the colored groom was standing by me, but he
could not whip me when he saw the blood flowing from my mouth, so he
took me down to the creek, which was but a short distance from the
place, and washed me, and then taking me home, sent for a doctor, who
dressed the wound.
When Mr. Young saw my condition, he asked how it was done, and upon
being told he said it ought to have killed me. After the doctor had
dressed my face, of course I went home, thinking they would allow me to
stay until I got well, but I had no sooner arrived than the groom sent
for me; I did not answer, as my jaw pained me very much. When he found
that I did not come, he came after me himself, and said if I did not
come to the stable right away, he would whip me, so I went with him. He
did not whip me while I was in that condition, but he would not let me
lie down, so I suffered very much from exposure.
When mother came that night from the farm and saw my condition, she was
overcome with grief; she said to father, "this wound is enough to kill
the child, and that merciless man will not let him lie down until he
gets well: this is too hard." Father said to her, "I know it is very
hard, but what can we do? for if we try to keep this boy in the house it
will cause us trouble." Mother said, "I wish they would take him out of
the world, then he would be out of pain, and we should not have to fret
about him, for he would be in heaven." Then she took hold of me and
said, "Does it hurt you, son?" meaning my face, and I said, "Yes,
mamma," and she shed tears; but she had no little toys to give me to
comfort me; she could only promise me such as she had, which were eggs
Father did not show his grief for me as mother did, but he tried to
comfort mother all he could, and at times would say to me, "Never mind,
my son, you will be a man bye and bye," but he did not know what was
passing through my mind at that time. Though I was very small I thought
that if, while a boy, my treatment was so severe, it would be much worse
when I became a man, and having had a chance to see how men were being
punished, it was a very poor consolation to me.
Finally the time came for us to go to bed, and we all knelt in family
prayer. Father thanked God for having saved me from a worse injury, and
then he prayed for mother's comfort, and also for the time which he
predicted would come, that is, the time of freedom, when I and the rest
of the children would be our own masters and mistresses; then he
commended us to God, and we all went to bed. The next morning I went to
my work with a great deal of pain. They did not send me up the road with
the horses in that condition, but I had to ride the old horses to water,
and work around the stable until I was well enough to go with the other
boys. But I am happy to say that from the time I got hurt by that horse
I was never thrown except through carelessness, neither was I afraid of
a horse after that.
Notwithstanding father and mother fretted very much about me, they were
proud of my success as a rider, but my hardships did not end here.
A short time after, I was taken to Columbia and Charleston, S.C., where
they used to have the races. That year Col. Singleton won a large sum
of money by the well-known horse, Capt. Miner, and that was the same
season that I rode my trial race. The next year, before the time of
racing, Col. Singleton died at his summer seat. After master's death,
mistress sold all the race horses, and that put an end to sporting
horses in that family.
I said that Boney Young, Col. Singleton's groom, had a brother by the
name of Charles, who trained horses for the colonel's brother, John
Singleton, Boney was a better trainer, but Charles was a better man to
the negroes. It was against the law for a slave to buy spirituous
liquors without a ticket, but Charles used to give the boys tickets to
buy rum and whiskey with. He also allowed them to steal the neighbor's
cows and hogs.
I remember that on one occasion his boys killed a cow belonging to a man
by the name of Le Brun; soon after the meat was brought to the stable,
Le Brun rode up on horseback with a loaded shot gun and threatened to
shoot the party with whom the beef was found. Of course the negroes'
apartments were searched; but as that had been anticipated, Mr. Young
had made them put the meat in his apartment, and, as it was against the
law of South Carolina for a white man to search another's house, or any
apartment, without very strong evidence, the meat was not found. Before
searching among the negroes, Mr. Young said to Le Brun, "You may search,
but you won't find your beef here, for my boys don't steal." Le Brun
answered, "Mr. Young, your word might be true, sir, but I would trust a
nigger with money a great deal sooner than I would with cows and hogs."
Mr. Young answered, "That might be true, but you won't find your beef
After their rooms and clothes had been searched, blood was found under
some of their finger nails, which increased Le Brun's suspicion that
they were of the party who stole his cow; but Mr. Young answered, "that
blood is from rabbits my boys caught today." Mr. Le Brun tried to scare
one of the boys, to make him say it was the blood of his cow. Mr. Young
said, "Mr. Le Brun, you have searched and did not find your beef, as I
told you that you would not; also I told you that the blood under their
finger nails is from rabbits caught today. You will have to take my
word, sir, without going to further trouble; furthermore, these boys
belong to Mr. Singleton, and if you want to take further steps you will
have to see him." Finding that he was not allowed to do as he wanted to,
Mr. Le Brun made great oaths and threats as he mounted his horse to
leave, that he would shoot the very first one of those boys he should
catch near his cattle. He and Mr. Young never did agree after that.
But poor Mr. Young, as good as he was to the negroes, was an enemy to
himself, for he was a very hard drinker. People who knew him before I
did said they never had seen him drink tea, coffee, or water, but rather
rum and whiskey; he drank so hard that he used to go into a crazy fit;
he finally put an end to his life by cutting his throat with a razor, at
a place called O'Handly's race course, about three miles from Columbia,
S.C. This was done just a few days before one of the great races.
Boney Young drank, too, but not so hard as Charles. He lived until just
after the late war, and, while walking one day through one of the
streets of the above named city, dropped dead, with what was supposed to
have been heart disease.
Boney had a mulatto woman, named Moriah, who had been originally brought
from Virginia by negro traders, but had been sold to several different
masters later. The trouble was that she was very beautiful, and wherever
she was sold her mistresses became jealous of her, so that she changed
owners very often. She was finally sold to Boney Young, who had no wife;
and she lived with him until freed by the emancipation proclamation. She
had two daughters; the elder's name was Annie, but we used to call her
sissie; the younger's name was Josephine. Annie looked just like her
father, Boney Young, while Josephine looked enough like Charles to have
been his daughter. It was easy enough to tell that the mother had sprung
from the negro race, but the girls could pass for white. Their mother,
Moriah, died in Columbia some time after the war. Annie went off and was
married to a white man, but I don't know what became of Josephine.
A short time before master's death he stood security for a northern man,
who was cashier of one of the largest banks in the city of Charleston.
This man ran away with a large sum of money, leaving the colonel
embarassed, which fact made him very fretful and peevish. He had been
none too good before to his slaves, and that made him worse, as you knew
that the slave holders would revenge themselves on the slaves whenever
they became angry. I had seen master whip his slaves a great many
times, but never so severely as he did that spring before he died.
One day, before he went to his summer seat, he called a man to him,
stripped and whipped him so that the blood ran from his body like water
thrown upon him in cupfuls, and when the man stepped from the place
where he had been tied, the blood ran out of his shoes. He said to the
man, "You will remember me now, sir, as long as you live." The man
answered, "Yes, master, I will."
Master went away that spring for the last time; he never returned alive;
he died at his summer seat. When they brought his remains home all of
the slaves were allowed to stop at home that day to see the last of him,
and to lament with mistress. After all the slaves who cared to do so had
seen his face, they gathered in groups around mistress to comfort her;
they shed false tears, saying, "Never mind, missis, massa gone home to
heaven." While some were saying this, others said, "Thank God, massa
gone home to hell." Of course the most of them were glad that he was
dead; but they were gathered there for the express purpose of comforting
mistress. But after master's death mistress was a great deal worse than
he had been.
When the master died there was a great change of things on the
plantation; the creditors came in for settlement, so all of the fine
horses, and some others, such as carriage horses, and a few mules also,
were sold. The slaves whom master had bought himself had to be sold, but
those who had been born on the plantation, given to him by his father,
old Col. Dick Singleton, could not be sold until the grandchildren were
As I have stated, my hardships and trials did not end with the race
horses; you will now see them in another form.
After all the fine horses had been sold, mistress ordered the men and
boys who were taking care of the horses to be put into the field, and I
was among them, though small; but I had become so attached to the horses
that they could get no work out of me, so they began to whip me, but
every time they whipped me I would leave the field and run home to the
Finally mistress engaged a very bad man as overseer, in place of old Ben
Usome, whose name was William Turner. Two or three days after his
arrival he took me into the field and whipped me until I was sick, so I
I went to mistress and told her that the overseer had whipped me; she
asked if I had done the work that he had given me. I told her that
master had promised me that, when I got too heavy to ride race horses,
he would send me to learn the carpenter's trade; she asked me if, in
case she put me to a trade, I would work, and I told her I would. So she
But the overseer did not like the idea of having me work at the trade
which was my choice. He said to mistress, "That is the worst thing you
can do, madam, to allow a negro to have his choice about what he shall
do. I have had some experience as an overseer for many years, and I
think I am able to give a correct statement about the nature of negroes
in general. I know a gentleman who allowed his negroes to have their own
way about things on his plantation, and the result was that they got as
high as their master. Besides that, madam, their influence rapidly
spreads among the neighbors, and if such should be allowed, South
Carolina would have all masters and mistresses, and no servants; and, as
I have said, I know somewhat about the nature of negroes; I notice,
madam, that this boy will put you to a great deal of trouble unless you
begin to subdue him now while he is young. A very few years' delay will
enable him to have a great influence among his fellow negroes, for that
boy can read very well now, and you know, madam, it is against the law
for a negro to get an education, and if you allow him to work at the
carpenter's trade it will thus afford him the opportunity of acquiring a
better education, because he will not be directly under the eye of one
who will see that he makes no further advancement."
Then mistress asked me, "Can you read, Jacob?" I did not want her to
know that I had taken notice of what they were saying, so I answered, "I
don't know, ma'am." The overseer said, "He does not know what is meant,
madam, but I can make him understand me." Then he took a newspaper from
his pocket and said to me, "Can you say these words?" I took the paper
and began to read, then he took it from me.
Mistress asked when I had learned to read and who had taught me. The
overseer did not know, but said he would find out from me. Turning to me
he took the paper from his pocket again, and said, "Jacob, who told you
to say words in the book?" I answered, "Nobody, sir; I said them
myself." He repeated the question three or four times, and I gave the
same answer every time. Then mistress said, "I think it would be better
to put him to trade than to have him in the field, because he will be
away from his fellow-negroes, and will be less liable to influence them
if we can manage to keep him away." The overseer said, "That might be
true, madam, but if we can manage to keep him from gaining any more
education he will eventually lose what little he has; and now, madam, if
you will allow me to take him in hand, I will bring him out all right
without injuring him." Just at this juncture a carriage drove up to the
gate, and I ran as usual to open it, the overseer went about his
business, and mistress went to speak to the persons in the carriage. I
never had a chance to hear their conclusion.
A few days after the conversation between the overseer and mistress, I
was informed by one of the slaves, who was a carpenter, that she had
ordered that I should go to work at the trade with him. This gave me
great joy, as I was very anxious to know what they had decided to do
with me. I went to my new trade with great delight, and soon began to
imagine what a famous carpenter I should make, and what I should say and
do when I had learned the trade. Everything seemed to run smoothly with
me for about two months, when suddenly I was told one morning that I
must go into the field to drop cotton seed, but I did not heed the call,
as mistress was not at home, and I knew she had just put me to the
trade, also that the overseer was trying to get mistress' consent to
have me work out in the field.
The next morning the overseer came into the carpenter's shop and said,
"Did I not order ye into the field, sir?" I answered, "Yes, sir."
"Well, why did ye not go?" I answered, "Mistress has put me here to
learn the trade." He said, "I will give ye trade." So he stripped me and
gave me a severe whipping, and told me that that was the kind of trade I
needed, and said he would give me many of them. The next day I went into
the field, and he put me to drop cotton seed, as I was too small to do
anything else. I would have made further resistance, but mistress was
very far away from home, and I had already learned the lesson that
father and mother could render me no help, so I thought submission to
him the easiest for me.
When I had got through with the cotton seed, in about three weeks, I
went back to the carpenter's shop to work; so he came there and gave me
another severe whipping, and said to me, "Ye want to learn the
carpenter's trade, but I will have ye to the trade of the field." But
that was the last whipping he gave me, and the last of his whip.
A few days after my last whipping the slaves were ordered down into the
swamp across the river to clear up new grounds, while the already
cleared lands were too wet from rain that had fallen that night. Of
course I was among them to do my part; that is, while the men quartered
up dry trees, which had been already felled in the winter, and rolled
the logs together, the women, boys and girls piled the brushes on the
logs and burned them.
We had to cross the river in a flat boat, which was too small to carry
over all the slaves at once, so they had to make several trips.
Mr. Turner, the overseer, went across in the first flat; he did not
ride down to the work place, but went on foot, while his horse, which
was trained to stand alone without being hitched, was left at the
landing place. My cousin and I crossed in the last boat. When we had got
across we lingered behind the crowd at the landing; when they all were
gone we went near the horse and saw the whip with which I was whipped a
few days before fastened to the saddle. I said to him, "Here is the whip
old Turner whipped me with the other day." He said, "It ought to be put
where he will never get it to whip anybody with again." I answered my
cousin, "If you will keep the secret I will put it where old Bill, as we
used to call Mr. Turner, will never use it any more." He agreed to keep
the secret, and then asked me how I would put the whip away. I told him
if he would find me a string and a piece of iron I would show him how.
He ran down to the swamp barn, which was a short distance from the
margin of the river, and soon returned with the string and iron exactly
suited for the work. I tied the iron to the whip, went into the flat
boat, and threw it as far as I could into the river. My cousin and I
watched it until it went out of sight under water; then, as guilty boys
generally do after mischievous deeds, we dashed off in a run, hard as we
could, among the other negroes, and acted as harmless as possible. Mr.
Turner made several inquiries, but never learned what had become of his
A short time after this, in the time of the war, in the year 1863, when
a man was going round to the different plantations gathering slaves from
their masters to carry off to work on fortifications and to wait on
officers, there were ten slaves sent from Mrs. Singleton's plantation,
and I was among them. They carried us to Sullivan's Island at
Charleston, S.C., and I was there all of that year. I thanked God that
it afforded me a better chance for an education than I had had at home,
and so I was glad to be on the island. Though I had no one to teach me,
as I was thrown among those of my fellow negroes who were fully as lame
as I was in letters, yet I felt greatly relieved from being under the
eye of the overseer, whose intention was to keep me from further
advancement. The year after I had gone home I was sent back to Fort
Sumpter--in the year 1864. I carried my spelling book with me, and,
although the northerners were firing upon us, I tried to keep up my
In July of the same year I was wounded by the Union soldiers, on a
Wednesday evening. I was taken to the city of Charleston, to Dr. Regg's
hospital, and there I stayed until I got well enough to travel, when I
was sent to Columbia, where I was when the hour of liberty was
proclaimed to me, in 1865. This was the year of jubilee, the year which
my father had spoken of in the dark days of slavery, when he and mother
sat up late talking of it. He said to mother, "The time will come when
this boy and the rest of the children will be their own masters and
mistresses." He died six years before that day came, but mother is still
enjoying liberty with her children.
And no doubt my readers would like to know how I was wounded in the war.
We were obliged to do our work in the night, as they were firing on us
in the day, and on a Wednesday night, just as we went out, we heard the
cry of the watchman. "Look out." There was a little lime house near the
southwest corner of the fort, and some twelve or thirteen of us ran into
it, and all were killed but two; a shell came down on the lime house and
burst, and a piece cut my face open. But as it was not my time to die, I
lived to enjoy freedom.
I said that when I got so I could travel I was sent from Dr. Ragg's
hospital in Charleston to Col. Singleton's plantation near Columbia, in
the last part of the year 1864. I did not do any work during the
remainder of that year, because I was unwell from my wound received in
About that time Gen. Sherman came through Georgia with his hundred
thousand men, and camped at Columbia, S.C. The slave holders were very
uneasy as to how they should save other valuables, as they saw that
slavery was a hopeless case. Mistress had some of her horses, mules,
cows and hogs carried down into the swamp, while the others which were
left on the plantation were divided out to the negroes for safe keeping,
as she had heard that the Yankees would not take anything belonging to
the slaves. A little pig of about fifty or sixty pounds was given to me
for safe keeping. A few of the old horses and mules were taken from the
plantation by the Union soldiers, but they did not trouble anything
After Columbia had been burned, and things had somewhat quieted, along
in the year 1865, the negroes were asked to give up the cows and hogs
given them for safe keeping; all the rest gave up theirs, but mine was
not found. No doubt but my readers want to know what had become of it.
Well, I will tell you. You all know that Christmas was a great day with
both masters and slaves in the South, but the Christmas of 1864 was the
greatest which had ever come to the slaves, for, although the
proclamation did not reach us until 1865, we felt that the chains which
had bound us so long were well nigh broken.
So I killed the pig that Christmas, gathered all of my associates, and
had a great feast, after which we danced the whole week. Mother would
not let me have my feast in her cabin, because she was afraid that the
white people would charge her with advising me to kill the pig, so I had
it in one of the other slave's cabins.
When the overseer asked me for the pig given me, I told him that I
killed it for my Christmas feast. Mistress said to me, "Jacob, why did
you not ask me for the pig if you wanted it, rather than take it without
permission?" I answered, "I would have asked, but thought, as I had it
in hand, it wasn't any use asking for it." The overseer wanted to whip
me for it, but as Uncle Sam had already broken the right arm of slavery,
through the voice of the proclamation of 1863, he was powerless.
When the yoke had been taken from my neck I went to school in Columbia,
S.C., awhile, then to Charleston. Afterward I came to Worcester, Mass.,
in February, 1869. I studied quite a while in the evening schools at
Worcester, and also a while in the academy of the same place. During
that time I was licensed a local preacher of the African Methodist
Episcopal church, and sometime later was ordained deacon at Newport,
A short time after my ordination I was sent to Salem, Mass., where I
have remained, carrying on religious work among my people, trying in my
feeble way to preach that gospel which our blessed Saviour intended for
the redemption of all mankind, when he proclaimed, "Go ye into all the
world and preach the gospel." In the meantime I have been striking
steady blows for the improvement of my education, in preparing myself
for a field of work among my more unfortunate brethren in the South.
I must say that I have been surrounded by many good friends, including
the clergy, since I have been in Salem, whose aid has enabled me to
serve a short term in the Wesleyan school at Wilbraham, Mass., also to
begin a course of theological studies at Talladega college in Alabama,
which I am endeavoring to complete by the sale of this publication.
THE SALE OF MY TWO SISTERS.
I have stated that my father had fifteen children--four boys and three
girls by his first wife, and six boys and two girls by his second. Their
names are as follows: Toney, Azerine, Duke and Dezine, of the girls,
Violet, Priscilla and Lydia; those of the second wife as follows: Footy,
Embrus, Caleb, Mitchell, Cuffee, and Jacob, who is the author, and the
girls, Catherine and Retta.
As I have said, old Col. Dick Singleton had two sons and two daughters,
and each had a plantation. Their names were John, Matt, Marianna and
Angelico. They were very agreeable together, so that if one wanted negro
help from another's plantation, he or she could have it, especially in
cotton picking time.
John Singleton had a place about twenty miles from master's, and master
used to send him slaves to pick cotton. At one time my master, Col. M.R.
Singleton, sent my two sisters, Violet and Priscilla, to his brother
John, and while they were there they married two of the men on his
place. By mutual consent master allowed them to remain on his brother's
place. But some time after this John Singleton had some of his property
destroyed by water, as is often the case in the South at the time of May
freshets, what is known in the North as high tides.
One of these freshets swept away John Singleton's slave houses, his
barns, with horses, mules and cows. These caused his death by a broken
heart, and since he owed a great deal of money his slaves had to be
sold. A Mr. Manning bought a portion of them, and Charles Login the
rest. These two men were known as the greatest slave traders in the
South. My sisters were among the number that Mr. Manning bought.
He was to take them into the state of Louisiana for sale, but some of
the men did not want to go with him, and he put those in prison until he
was ready to start. My sisters' husbands were among the prisoners in the
Sumterville jail, which was about twenty-five or thirty miles across the
river from master's place. Those who did not show any unwillingness to
go were allowed to visit their relatives and friends for the last time.
So my sisters, with the rest of their unfortunate companions, came to
master's place to visit us. When the day came for them to leave, some,
who seemed to have been willing to go at first, refused, and were
handcuffed together and guarded on their way to the cars by white men.
The women and children were driven to the depot in crowds, like so many
cattle, and the sight of them caused great excitement among master's
negroes. Imagine a mass of uneducated people shedding tears and yelling
at the top of their voices in anguish.
The victims were to take the cars at a station called Clarkson turnout,
which was about four miles from master's place. The excitement was so
great that the overseer and driver could not control the relatives and
friends of those that were going away, as a large crowd of both old and
young went down to the depot to see them off. Louisiana was considered
by the slaves a place of slaughter, so those who were going did not
expect to see their friends again. While passing along many of the
negroes left their masters' fields and joined us as we marched to the
cars; some were yelling and wringing their hands, while others were
singing little hymns that they had been accustomed to for the
consolation of those that were going away, such as
"When we all meet in heaven,
There is no parting there;
When we all meet in heaven,
There is parting no more."
We arrived at the depot and had to wait for the cars to bring the others
from the Sumterville jail, but they soon came in sight, and when the
noise of the cars had died away, we heard wailing and shrieks from those
in the cars. While some were weeping, others were fiddling, picking
banjo, and dancing as they used to do in their cabins on the
plantations. Those who were so merry had very bad masters, and even
though they stood a chance of being sold to one as bad or even worse,
yet they were glad to be rid of the one they knew.
While the cars were at the depot a large crowd of white people gathered,
laughing and talking about the prospect of negro traffic; but when the
cars began to start, and the conductor cried out, "All who are going on
this train must get on board without delay," the colored people cried
out with one voice as though the heavens and earth were coming together,
and it was so pitiful that those hard-hearted white men, who had been
accustomed to driving slaves all their lives, shed tears like children.
As the cars moved away we heard the weeping and wailing from the slaves
as far as human voice could be heard; and from that time to the present
I have neither seen nor heard from my two sisters, nor any of those who
left Clarkson depot on that memorable day.
THE WAY THE SLAVES LIVED.
Most of the cabins in the time of slavery were built so as to contain
two families; some had partitions, while others had none. When there
were no partitions each family would fit up its own part as it could;
sometimes they got old boards and nailed them up, stuffing the cracks
with rags; when they could not get boards they hung up old clothes. When
the family increased the children all slept together, both boys and
girls, until one got married; then a part of another cabin was assigned
to that one, but the rest would have to remain with their mother and
father, as in childhood, unless they could get with some of their
relatives or friends who had small families, or unless they were sold;
but of course the rules of modesty were held in some degrees by the
slaves, while it could not be expected that they could entertain the
highest degree of it, on account of their condition. A portion of the
time the young men slept in the apartment known as the kitchen, and the
young women slept in the room with their mother and father. The two
families had to use one fireplace. One who was accustomed to the way in
which the slaves lived in their cabins could tell as soon as they
entered whether they were friendly or not, for when they did not agree
the fires of the two families did not meet on the hearth, but there was
a vacancy between them, that was a sign of disagreement. In a case of
this kind, when either of the families stole a hog, cow or sheep from
the master, he had to carry it to some of his friends, for fear of being
betrayed by the other family. On one occasion a man, who lived with one
unfriendly, stole a hog, killed it, and carried some of the meat home.
He was seen by some one of the other family, who reported him to the
overseer, and he gave the man a severe whipping. Sometime afterward this
man who had been betrayed thought he would get even with his enemy; so
about two months later he killed another hog, and, after eating a part
of it, stole into the apartment of the other family and hid a portion of
the meat among the old clothes. Then he told the overseer that he had
seen the man go out late that night and that he had not come home until
the next morning; when he did come he had called his wife to the window
and she had taken something in. He did not know what it was, but if the
overseer would go there right away he would find it. The overseer went
and searched and found the meat, so the man was whipped. He told the
overseer that the other man put it in his apartment while the family
were away, but the overseer told him that every man must be responsible
for his own apartment.
No doubt you would like to know how the slaves could sleep in their
cabins in summer, when it was so very warm. When it was too warm for
them to sleep comfortably, they all slept under trees until it grew too
cool, that is along in the month of October. Then they took up their
beds and walked.
JOE AND THE TURKEY.
Joe was a boy who was waiter to his master, one Mr. King, and he and
his wife were very fond of company. Mrs. King always had chickens and
turkey for dinner, but at one time the company was so large that they
did not leave anything for the servants; so that day, finding that all
had been eaten, while mistress and master were busy with the company,
Joe killed a turkey, dressed it and put it into the pot, but, as he did
not cut it up, the turkey's knees stuck out of the pot, and, as he could
not cover them up, he put one of his shirts over them. When Mrs. King
called Joe, he answered, but did not go right away as he generally did,
and when he did go his mistress said, "Joe, what was the matter with
you?" he answered, "Noffing, missis." Then he went and opened the gate
for the company. Soon after, Joe was back in the kitchen again, and Mrs.
King went down to see what he was doing; seeing the pot on she said,
"Joe, what is in that pot?" he said, "noffing, missis, but my shirt; am
gwine to wash it." She did not believe him, so she took a fork and stuck
it in the pot, taking out the shirt, and she found the turkey. She asked
him how the turkey had got into the pot; he said he did not know but
reckoned the turkey got in himself, as the fowls were very fond of going
into the kitchen. So Joe was whipped because he allowed the turkey to
get into the pot.
THE CUSTOM OF CHRISTMAS.
Both masters and slaves regarded Christmas as a great day. When the
slaveholders had made a large crop they were pleased, and gave the
slaves from five to six days, which were much enjoyed by the negroes,
especially by those who could dance. Christmas morning was held sacred
both by master and slaves, but in the afternoon, or in a part of the
next day the slaves were required to devote themselves to the pleasure
of their masters. Some of the masters would buy presents for the slaves,
such as hats and tobacco for the men, handkerchiefs and little things
for the women; these things were given after they had been pleased with
them; after either dancing or something for their amusement.
When the slaves came up to their masters and mistresses, the latter
would welcome them, the men would take off their hats and bow and the
women would make a low courtesy. There would be two or three large pails
filled with sweetened water, with a gallon or two of whiskey in each;
this was dealt out to them until they were partly drunk; while this was
going on, those who could talk very well would give tokens of well
wishing to their master and mistress, and some who were born in Africa,
would sing some of their songs, or tell different stories of the customs
in Africa. After this they would spend half a day in dancing in some
large cotton house or on a scaffold, the master providing fiddlers who
came from other plantations if there were none on the place, and who
received from fifteen to twenty dollars on these occasions.
A great many of the strict members of the church who did not dance would
be forced to do it to please their masters; the favorite tunes were "The
Fisher's Hornpipe," "The Devil's Dream," and "Black-eyed Susan." No one
can describe the intense emotion in the negro's soul on those occasions
when they were trying to please their masters and mistresses.
After the dancing was over we had our presents, master giving to the
men, and mistress to the women; then the slaves would go to their
quarters and continue to dance the rest of the five or six days, and
would sometimes dance until eight o'clock Sunday morning. The cabins
were mostly made of logs, and there were large cracks in them so that a
person could see the light in them for miles in the night, and of course
the sun's rays would shine through them in the daytime, so on Sunday
morning when they were dancing and did not want to stop you would see
them filling up the cracks with old rags. The idea was that it would not
be Sunday inside if they kept the sun out, and thus they would not
desecrate the Sabbath; and these things continued until the freedom of
Perhaps my readers would like to know if most of the negroes were
inclined to violate the Sabbath. They were; as the masters would make
them do unnecessary work, they got into the habit of disregarding the
day as one for rest, and did many things Sunday that would not be
allowed in the North. At that time, if you should go through the South
on those large cotton and rice plantations, while you would find some
dancing on Sunday, others would be in the woods and fields hunting
rabbits and other game, and some would be killing pigs belonging to
their masters or neighbors. I remember when a small boy I went into the
woods one Sunday morning with one of my fellow negroes whose name was
Munson, but we called him Pash, and we killed one of master's pigs, hid
it under the leaves until night, then took it home and dressed it. That
was the only time I killed a pig, but I knew of thousands of cases like
this in the time of slavery. But thank God, the year of Jubilee has
come, and the negroes can return from dancing, from hunting, and from
the master's pig pens on Sundays and become observers of the Sabbath, of
good moral habits and men of equal rights before the law.
PUNISHMENTS INFLICTED ON DIFFERENT ONES.
One of my fellow negroes, who belonged to Col. M.R. Singleton, visited
the plantation of the Col.'s sister; the overseer of that plantation had
forbidden strangers to go there, but this man, whose name was Harry,
would go. The overseer heard of him but could not catch him, but the
overseer of master's place sent him to Mr. Jackson (the overseer of
master's sister's place). Mr. Jackson tied him and hit him three hundred
lashes and then said to him, "Harry, if you were not such a good nigger
I should have given you a first class whipping, but as you are a good
fellow, and I like you so well, I thought I would give you a light
flogging now; you must be a good nigger and behave yourself, for if I
ever have to take hold of you again, I shall give you a good whipping."
When Mr. Jackson had loosed him from where he had tied him, Harry was so
exhausted that he fell down, so Mr. Jackson sent him home in a cart, and
he had to stay at home from work a month or two, and was never the same
THE PUNISHMENT AND SALE OF MONDAY.
There was a man who belonged to master by the name of Monday, who was a
good field hand; in summer the tasks generally performed by the slaves
were more than they could do, and in consequence they were severely
whipped, but Monday would not wait to be whipped, but would run away
before the overseer or driver could get to him. Sometimes master would
hire a white man who did nothing else but hunt runaway slaves for a
living; this man would take from fifteen to twenty hounds with him to
hunt Monday, but often he would be out three or four months; when he was
caught and brought home, he was put in prison and was whipped every day
for a week or two, but just as soon as he could he would run away again.
At one time when he had been brought home, one of his arms was tied and
he was put in care of a keeper who made him work with the other slaves,
days, and put him in confinement nights, but for all this he got away
from his keeper and went into the woods again. The last time he ran away
two white men were hired to hunt him; they had about twenty-five blood
hounds, but this time Monday fell in with another slave who had ran away
from his master and had been in the woods seven years, and they together
were able to kill a greater portion of the hounds. Finally the white men
caught his companion, but did not catch Monday, though they chased him
two or three days longer, but he came home himself; they did not whip
him and he went to work in the field. Things went on very nicely with
him for two or three weeks, until one day a white man was seen riding
through the fields with the overseer; of course the slaves did not
mistrust his object, as white men often visited master's plantation, but
that night, when all the slaves were sleeping, the man that was seen in
the daytime went to the door of Monday's cabin and called him out of his
bed, and when he had come to his door, the stranger, whom he had never
seen before that day, handcuffed him and said, "You now belong to me."
Most of the slaves found it out, as Monday was put in a cart and carried
through the streets of the negro quarters, and there was quite an
excitement, but Monday was never heard from again.
THE STORY OF JAMES HAY.
There was a slave named James Hay, who belonged to a neighbor of
master's; he was punished a great many times because he could not get
his task done. The other slaves pitied him because he seemed unable to
perform his task. One evening he got a severe whipping; the next morning
as the slaves were having their tasks assigned them, an old lady by the
name of Aunt Patience went by, and said, "Never mind, Jim, my son, the
Lord will help you with your task today;" he answered, "Yes, ma'am." He
began his work very faithfully and continued until it was half done,
then he lay down under a tree; the others, not understanding his motive,
thought he was tired and was taking a rest, but he did not return to his
task until the overseer called him and asked him why he did not have his
work nearer done. He said, "Aunt Patience told me dis morning that the
Lord would help me today, and I thought as I did half of the task, the
Lord might have finished the other half if he intended to help me at
all." The overseer said "You see that the Lord did not come to help you
and we shall not wait for him, but we will help you;" so Jim got a
severe punishment. Sometime after this, Jim Hay was called upon by some
professors of religion; they asked him if he was not tired of serving
the devil, and told him that the Lord was good and had helped many of
his people, and would help all who asked him and then take them home to
heaven. Jim said that if the Lord would not do half an acre of his task
for him when he depended on him, he did not think he could trust him,
and Jim never became a Christian to my knowledge.
THE STORY OF MR. USOM AND JACK.
One Sunday when the boys were at the overseer's, Mr. Usom's house, as we
generally were, he said to one, "Jack, don't you think that hell is a
very hot place, if it is as they describe it?" Jack said, "Yes, massa."
Mr. Usom said, "Well, how do you think it will be with poor fellows that
have to go there?" "Well, Massa Bob, I will tell you what I tinks about
it, I tinks us niggers need not trouble usselves about hell, as the
white folks." "How is that, Jack?" Jack answered, "Because us niggers
have to work out in the hot sun, and if we go to hell it would not be so
bad for us because us used to heat, but it will be bad for white folks
because they is not used to hot weather."
THE STORY OF JAMES SWINE AND HIS DEATH.
There was a negro who belonged to one Mr. Clarkson; he was called Jim
Swine; his right name was James, but he was called Jim Swine because he
loved hog meat and would often steal hogs from his master or from the
neighbors; he was a very able-bodied man, weighing about two hundred and
twenty-five pounds, and a very good field hand. Of course it is
generally known that a great many of the slaves were poorly fed, so it
was natural that they should take anything they could to sustain life.
As his master had only a few hogs, he stole many from the neighbors and
was punished a great many times for it.
Sometimes he was punished when a hog was missing, even though they did
not find the meat with him. Jim was not in the habit of running away
much, but if they whipped him when he had not stolen the hog they
accused him of taking, he would go away into the woods and stay until he
got ready to come home. He was so strong that they were afraid of him;
three or four men would not attack him when in the woods. The last time
Jim stole hogs he was caught in the act of taking one from my master,
Col. Singleton. They tied him, and Mr. Clarkson's overseer was sent for,
who was his own son, Thomas Clarkson. Jim was taken home, whipped, and a
cured middling of a hog was tied around his neck; he was then made to
work along with the other slaves in the day and was put in prison in the
night for two weeks. One morning when the overseer went to his place of
confinement to take him into the field, he found him dead, with a large
piece of meat hanging to his neck. The news of his death soon went
abroad, also the cause of it, and when old Mr. Clarkson found it out he
was very angry at his son Thomas, and his punishment was, that he was
driven from his plantation with orders never to return, and that he
should not have any of his property. This seemed to grieve Thomas very
much, and he made several attempts to regain his father's affections,
but failed. Finally, one night, Thomas made an outcry that he had found
a pearl of great price, that the Lord had pardoned his sins, and that he
was at peace with all mankind. When his father heard of this, he sent
for him to come home, and he gave him quite a sum of money and willed
him the portion of property that he had said he should keep from him.
But poor Jim was not there to forgive him.
A MAN MISTAKEN FOR A HOG.
Two negroes went to steal hogs from their masters. The swine were under
a barn, as in the South barns were made high enough for hogs to stand
under. The man who went under the barn said to the other, you must
strike the hog that goes the slowest; then he went under the barn on his
knees to drive them out while the other stood with his club ready to
strike, but they ran out so fast he could not hit them, except the last
as he thought, which came just slow enough, and he struck. While the
supposed hog was kicking, he jumped upon it to stab it with his knife
but found it was his companion.
CUSTOM OF WITCHES AMONG SLAVES.
The witches among slaves were supposed to have been persons who worked
with them every day, and were called old hags or jack lanterns. Those,
both men and women, who, when they had grown old looked old, were
supposed to be witches. Sometimes, after eating supper, the negroes
would gather in each other's cabins which looked over the large
openings on the plantation, and when they would see a light at a great
distance and see it open and shut, they would say, "there is an old
hag," and if it came from a direction in which those lived whom they
called witches, one would say, "Dat looks like old Aunt Susan;" another
would say, "No, dat look like man hag;" still another, "I tink dat look
like ole Uncle Renty."
When the light had disappeared they said that the witch had got into the
plantation and changed itself into a person and had gone about on the
place talking with the people like others until those whom it wanted to
bewitch went to bed, then it would change itself to a witch again. They
claimed that the witches rode human beings like horses, and that the
spittle that ran on the side of the cheek when one slept, was the bridle
that the witch rode with. Sometimes a baby would be smothered by its
mother, and they would charge it to a witch. If they went out hunting at
night and were lost, it was believed that a witch had led them off,
especially if they fell into a pond or creek. I was very much troubled
with witches when a little boy and am now sometimes, but it is only when
I eat a hearty supper and immediately go to bed. It was said by some of
the slaves that the witches would sometimes go into the rooms of the
cabins and hide themselves until the family went to bed and therefore
when any one claimed that he had gone into the apartment before bed time
and thought he had seen a witch, if he had an old Bible in the cabin,
that would be taken into the room, and the person who carried the Bible
would say as he went in, "In de name of de Fader and of de Son and de
Holy Gos wat you want?" Then the Bible would be put in the corner where
the person thought he had seen the witch, as it was generally believed
that if this were done the witch could not stay. When they could not get
the Bible they used red pepper and salt pounded together and scattered
in the room, but in this case they generally felt the effects of it more
than the witch, for when they went to bed it made them cough all night.
When I was a little boy my mother sent me into the cabin room for
something, and as I got in I saw something black and white, but did not
stop to see what it was, and running out said there was a witch in the
room. But father, having been born in Africa, did not believe in such
things, so he called me a fool and whipped me and the witch got scared
and ran out the door. It turned out to be our own black and white cat
that we children played with every day. Although it proved to be the
cat, and father did not believe in witches, still I held the idea that
there were such things, for I thought the majority of the people
believed it, and that they ought to know more than could one man.
Sometime after I was free, in travelling from Columbia to Camden, a
distance of about thirty-two miles, night overtook me when about half
way there; it was very dark and rainy, and as I approached a creek I saw
a great number of lights of those witches opening and shutting. I did
not know what to do and thought of turning back, but when I looked
behind I saw some witches in the distance, so I said, "If I turn back
those will meet me and I shall be in as much danger as if I go on", and
I thought of what some of my fellow negroes had said about their
leading men into ponds and creeks. There was a creek just ahead, so I
concluded that I should be drowned that night; however, I went on, as I
saw no chance of turning back. When I came near the creek one of the
witches flew into my face. I jumped back and grasped it, but it proved
to be one of those lightning bugs, and I thought that if all the witches
were like that one, I should not be in any great danger from them.
THE DEATH OF CYRUS AND STEPNEY.
Old Col. Dick Singleton had several state places as I have mentioned. In
the South, the rich men who had a great deal of money bought all the
plantations they could get and obtained them very cheap. The Colonel had
some ten or twenty places and had slaves settled on each of them.
He had four children, and after each had received a plantation, the rest
were called state places, and these could not be sold until all the
grandchildren should become of age; after they all had received places,
the rest could be sold.
One of the places was called Biglake. The slaves on these places were
treated more cruelly than on those where the owner lived, for the
overseers had full sway.
One day the overseer at Biglake punished the slaves so that some of them
fell exhausted. When he came to the two men, Cyrus and Stepney, they
resisted, but were taken by force and severely punished. A few days
afterwards the overseer died, and those two men were taken up and hanged
on the plantation without judge or jury.
After that another overseer was hired, with orders to arm himself, and
every slave who did not submit to his punishment was to be shot
immediately. At times, when the overseer was angry with a man he would
strike him on the head with a club and kill him instantly, and they
would bury him in the field. Some would run away and come to M.R.
Singleton, my master, but he would only tell them to go home and behave.
Then they were handcuffed or chained and carried back to Biglake, and
when we would hear from them again the greater part would have been
murdered. When they were taken from master's place, they would bid us
good bye and say they knew they should be killed when they got home.
Oh! who can paint the sad feeling in our minds when we saw these, our
own race, chained and carried home to drink the bitter cup of death from
their merciless oppressors, with no one near to say, "Spare him, God
made him," or to say, "Have mercy on him, for Jesus died for him." His
companions dared not groan above a whisper for fear of sharing the same
fate; but thanks that the voice of the Lord was heard in the North,
which said, "Go quickly to the South and let my prison-bound people go
free, for I have heard their cries from cotton, corn and rice
plantations, saying, how long before thou wilt come to deliver us from
this chain?" and the Lord said to them, "Wait, I will send you John
Brown who shall be the key to the door of your liberty, and I will
harden the heart of Jefferson Davis, your devil, that I may show him and
his followers my power; then shall I send you Abraham Lincoln, mine
angel, who shall lead you from the land of bondage to the land of
liberty." Our fathers all died in "the wilderness," but thank God, the
children reached "the promised land."
THE WAY THE SLAVES DETECTED THIEVES AMONG THEMSELVES.
The slaves had three ways of detecting thieves, one with a Bible, one
with a sieve, and another with graveyard dust. The first way was
this:--four men were selected, one of whom had a Bible with a string
attached, and each man had his own part to perform. Of course this was
done in the night as it was the only time they could attend to such
matters as concerned themselves. These four would commence at the first
cabin with every man of the family, and one who held the string attached
to the Bible would say, "John or Tom," whatever the person's name was,
"you are accused of stealing a chicken or a dress from Sam at such a
time," then one of the other two would say, "John stole the chicken,"
and another would say, "John did not steal the chicken." They would
continue their assertions for at least five minutes, then the man would
put a stick in the loop of the string that was attached to the Bible,
and holding it as still as he could, one would say, "Bible, in the name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, if John stole that
chicken, turn," that is, if the man had stolen what he was accused of,
the Bible was to turn around on the string, and that would be a proof
that he did steal it. This was repeated three times before they left
that cabin, and it would take those men a month sometimes when the
plantation was very large, that is if they did not find the right person
before they got through the whole place.
The second way they had of detecting thieves was very much like the
first, only they used a sieve instead of a Bible; they stuck a pair of
scissors in the sieve with a string hitched to it and a stick put
through the loop of the string and the same words were used as for the
Bible. Sometimes the Bible and the sieve would turn upon the names of
persons whose characters were beyond suspicion. When this was the case
they would either charge the mistake to the men who fixed the Bible and
the sieve, or else the man who was accused by the turning of the Bible
and the sieve, would say that he passed near the coop from which the
fowl was stolen, then they would say, "Bro. John we see dis how dat ting
work, you pass by de chicken coop de same night de hen went away."
But when the Bible or the sieve turned on the name of one whom they knew
often stole, and he did not acknowledge that he had stolen the chicken
of which he was accused, he would have to acknowledge his previously
stolen goods or that he had thought of stealing at the time when the
chicken or the dress was stolen. Then this examining committee would
justify the turning of the Bible or sieve on the above statement of the
The third way of detecting thieves was taught by the fathers and mothers
of the slaves. They said no matter how untrue a man might have been
during his life, when he came to die he had to tell the truth and had to
own everything he had ever done, and whatever dealing those alive had
with anything pertaining to the dead, must be true, or they would
immediately die and go to hell to burn in fire and brimstone. So in
consequence of this, the graveyard dust was the truest of the three
ways in detecting thieves. The dust would be taken from the grave of a
person who had died last and put into a bottle with water. Then two of
the men of the examining committee would use the same words as in the
case of the Bible and the sieve, "John stole that chicken," "John did
not steal that chicken," and after this had gone on for about five
minutes, then one of the other two who attended to the Bible and the
sieve would say, "John, you are accused of stealing that chicken that
was taken from Sam's chicken coop at such a time." "In the name of the
Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, if you have taken Sam's chicken
don't drink this water, for if you do you will die and go to hell and be
burned in fire and brimstone, but if you have not you may take it and it
will not hurt you." So if John had taken the chicken he would own it
rather than take the water.
Sometimes those whose characters were beyond suspicion would be proven
thieves when they tried the graveyard dust and water. When the right
person was detected, if he had any chickens he had to give four for one,
and if he had none he made it good by promising that he would do so no
more. If all the men on the plantation passed through the examination
and no one was found guilty, the stolen goods would be charged to
strangers. Of course these customs were among the negroes for their own
benefit, for they did not consider it stealing when they took anything
from their master.
JOSH AND THE CORN.
A man engaged in stripping fodder put some green ears of corn in the
fire to roast as the slaves generally do in fodder stripping time,
although they were whipped when caught. Before the ears were roasted
enough, the overseer approached, and Josh took the ears out with some
live coals stuck to them and put them in his shirt bosom. In running
away his clothes took fire and Josh jumped into a creek to put it out.
The overseer said to him, "Josh, what are you doing there?" He answered,
"It is so warm today I taught I would go in de creek to git cool off,
sir." "Well, have you got cooled off, Josh?" "Oh! yes, sir, very much
Josh was a very hearty eater, so that the peck of corn flour allowed the
slaves for a week's ration lasted him only a half. He used to lug large
sticks of wood on his shoulders from the woods, which was from a mile to
a mile and a half away, to first one and then another of his fellow
negroes, who gave him something to eat; and in that way he made out his
His habit was to bring the wood at night, throw it down at the cabin
door, and, as he walked in, some one of the family would say, "Well,
Josh, you fetched us a piece of wood." He would burst into one of his
jolly laughs and answer, "Yes." Soon after they had given him something
to eat, Josh would bid them good night, but when he went, the wood
disappeared too. He would throw it down at another cabin door as before,
go in and get something to eat; but every time when he went away the
wood would be missing until he had found enough to eat, when he would
leave it at the last cabin. Those to whom Josh carried the wood accused
others of stealing it, and when they asked him about it, he only
laughed and said that the wood was at the door when he came out.
Josh continued the trick for quite a while. Finally one night he brought
a stick of wood and threw it down at a cabin door, walked in and got
something to eat as usual. But as he came in, the man of the family, to
whom he carried the wood, bade him good night, and said that he had
business out which would keep him so late, that Josh would be gone
before he got back. While Josh was busy laughing and talking with the
rest of the family the man went out, and secreted himself in the chimney
corner of another cabin, and it was not long after he took his stand
before Josh bade the family good night, came out whistling, and
shouldered the wood, but as he started off the watchman cried out, "Is
that you, Josh?" Josh threw the wood down and answered, "O no, tisn't
me." Of course Josh was so funny one couldn't get angry with him if he
wanted to; but the rest of the slaves found out after that how the wood
Josh brought them, was missing.
But poor Josh died at last, away from home; he was sent with some of the
other negroes from Mrs. M.R. Singleton's plantation at Columbia, in the
year 1864, to build fortifications as a defence, under Gen. Wade Hampton
against Gen. Sherman, and while there he was taken sick and died, under
the yoke of slavery, having heard of freedom but not living to enjoy it.
My readers, have, no doubt, already heard that there were men in the
South who made it their business in the days of slavery to raise and
train hounds especially to hunt slaves with. Most of the owners hired
such men on condition that they were to capture and return their runaway
slaves, without being bruised and torn by the dogs. The average sums
paid hunters were ten, fifteen and twenty-five dollars for capturing a
slave; very many times, these sums were taken from the overseer's
salary, as they were more or less the cause of slaves running away.
My readers want to know whether the runaway slaves ever returned to the
overseers and their masters without being caught by the hunters.
Sometimes they did and sometimes they never returned. Some stayed their
lifetime; others, who would have returned, fell sick and died in the
My readers ask, how did the slaves at home know when their fellow
negroes, the runaways, sickened or died in the woods. In general, some
one on the plantation from which they ran away, or confidential friends
on some other plantation, had communication with them, so that if
anything happened to them the slaves at home would find out through such
parties. And sometimes the masters and overseers would find out about
their death, but indirectly, however, because if it was known that any
one on the plantation had dealings with the runaway, he would be
punished, even though the information should be gladly received by the
master and overseer.
Sometimes groups of runaway slaves, of eight, ten and even twenty,
belonging to different owners, got together in the woods, which made it
very difficult and dangerous for slave hunters to capture those whom
they were hired to hunt. In such cases sometimes these runaways killed
both hunters and dogs. The thick forests in which they lived could not
be searched on horseback, neither could man or dog run in them. The only
chances the hunters had of catching runaway slaves were either to rout
them from those thick forests or attack them when they came out in the
opening to seek food.
Of course the runaways were mostly armed, and when attacked in the
forests they would fight. My readers ask, how had they obtained arms and
what were those arms, since slaves were not allowed to have deadly
weapons? Some had large knives made by their fellow negroes who were
blacksmiths, others stole guns from white men who were accustomed to lay
them carelessly around when they were out hunting game. The runaways who
stole the guns were kept in powder and shot by some of the other slaves
at home, who bought such from poor white men who kept little country
stores in the different parts of the South.
The runaway slaves generally had fathers, brothers, cousins, or
confidential friends who met them at certain appointed places, and
brought them such things as were needed. The most they wanted from their
fellow negroes at home was salt and a little corn flour; for they lived
principally on beef and swine meat, taken either from their own masters
or some other's stock.
My readers ask, did not some of the slaves at home betray their fellow
negroes, the runaways, to the white man? I answer, they did; but often
such were well spotted, and if the runaway slaves got a chance at them
while in the woods would mob or kill them. On the other hand when they
met those whom they could trust, instead of injuring them, they
exchanged beef and swine meat with them for bread, corn flour, and salt,
such as they needed in the woods.
THE RUNAWAY SLAVES IN THE HOUSE.
Instead of going into the woods, sometimes runaway slaves lived right
around the overseer's and master's houses for months. A slave, named
Isom, ran away from Thomas Clarkson, his master's son, who was the
overseer. Mr. Clarkson was satisfied, as he said, that the unaccustomed
runaway, whom he thought was in the woods could not stay from home long,
but finding that he stayed longer than expected, Mr. Clarkson hired a
slave hunter with his dogs to hunt him.
The hunter came early to the plantation and took breakfast with Mr.
Clarkson on the day they began to hunt for the runaway slave. While
sitting at breakfast, Mr. Clarkson said to the hunter, "My father
brought up that boy as a house servant, and petted him so that it takes
all the salt in the country to cure him. Father had too much religion to
keep his negroes straight; but I don't believe in that. I think a negro
ought to be overhauled every little while to keep him in his place, and
that is just the reason why I took the overseership on this plantation."
The Hunter. "Well, what caused your boy to run away, Mr. Clarkson?"
Mr. Clarkson. "Well he ran away because I gave him an overhauling, to
keep him in the place of a negro."
Mr. Clarkson's wife. "Well, Thomas, I told you the other day, before you
did it, that I didn't see any need of your whipping Isom, because I
thought he was a good boy."
Mr. Clarkson. "Yes, my dear, if South Carolina had many more such
Presbyterians as you and Father Boston (he meant old Mr. Clarkson), in a
short time there would be no slaves in the state; then who would you
have to work for you?"
I wish to state a fact to my readers. While there were exceptions, as a
general thing the Presbyterians made better masters than did any other
denomination among the slave holders in the South.
Mrs. Clarkson. "Yes, Thomas, if you were such a Presbyterian as you
charged Father Boston and me with being, you could have saved yourself
the trouble and money which it will cost to hunt him."
Mr. Clarkson. "Well, we will not discuss the matter of religion any
further." (To the hunter.) "That boy has been away now for several days
since I whipped him. I thought that he would have returned home long
before this time, as this is the first time he has ever run away; but I
rather conclude that he got with some experienced runaways. Now do you
think that you can capture him without his being hurt, or torn by your
Mrs. Clarkson. "That is just what I am afraid will be done to that boy."
The Hunter. "O, no fear of that, madam, I shall use care in hunting him.
I have but one dog which is dangerous for tearing runaway negroes; I
will chain him here until I capture your boy."
The hunter blew his horn which gathered his dogs, chained the one he
spoke of, then he and Mr. Clarkson started on a chase for the runaway
slave, who, secreted in the house, had heard every word they had said
After the hunter and Mr. Clarkson had gone, Mrs. Clarkson went to her
room (as a general thing the southern mistresses hardly ever knew what
went on in their dining rooms and kitchens after meal hours), and Isom,
the runaway slave, sat at the same table and ate his breakfast.
After two or three days of vain search in the woods for the runaway
slave, Mr. Clarkson asked some of the other negroes on the plantation,
if they saw him, to tell him if he came home he would not whip him. Of
course, as a general thing, when they stayed in the woods until they
were captured, they were whipped but they were not when they came home
themselves. One morning after several days of fruitless search in the
woods for the runaway slave by the overseer and the hunter, while at
breakfast, Isom came up to the door. As soon as Mr. Clarkson learned
that the runaway slave was at the door he got up from his breakfast and
"Well, Isom," said Mr. Clarkson. "Well, Massa Thomas," said Isom. "Where
have you been?" said Mr. Clarkson. "I been in the woods, sir," answered
Isom. Of course it would not have been well for him to tell Mr. Clarkson
that he was hidden and fed right in the house, for it would have made it
bad for the other negroes who were house servants, among whom he had a
brother and sister.
Mr. Clarkson. "Isom, did you get with some other runaways?" "Yes, sir,"
said Isom. Of course Isom's answer was in keeping with the belief of
Mr. Clarkson that he had got in with some experienced runaway in the
woods. "How many were with you?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "Two," answered
Isom. "What are their names, and to whom do they belong?" asked Mr.
Clarkson. "I don't know, sir," said Isom. "Didn't you ask their names?"
said Mr. Clarkson. "No, sir," said Isom. "Can you describe them?" asked
Mr. Clarkson. "One is big, like you, and the other was little like the
man who was hunting me," said Isom. "Where did you see the hunter?"
asked Mr. Clarkson. "In the woods, sir," said Isom. "Isom, do you want
something to eat?" asked Mr. Clarkson. "Yes, sir," said Isom. He sent
him around to the kitchen and told the cook to give him something to
Mrs. Clarkson thought a great deal of Isom, so while he was in the
kitchen eating, she went in and had a long talk with him about how he
got along since he had been away, as they supposed.
As I have said, in general, when runaway slaves came home themselves,
they were not whipped, but were either handcuffed or put in stocks, and
locked up for two or three days.
While Isom was eating and talking with Mrs. Clarkson, Mr. Clarkson
appeared at the kitchen door with a pistol in one hand and handcuffs in
the other. Mrs. Clarkson said, "What are you going to do, Thomas?" "I
want Isom as soon as he is through eating," said Mr. Clarkson. "You are
not going to lock him up, are you Thomas?" said Mrs. Clarkson. Mrs.
Clarkson's name was Henrietta, but her pet name was Henie. Mr. Clarkson
said. "Henie, I shan't hurt Isom."
Isom, who had a smooth, black, round face, full eyes, white teeth, was a
very beautiful negro. When he saw the pistol and handcuffs in Mr.
Clarkson's hands, those large eyes of his were stretched so wide, one
could see the white, like great sheets in them.
Mrs. Clarkson said, "Thomas, please don't lock up Isom; he won't run
away again. You won't, will you Isom?" "No, mamma massie Henie, I
won't," said Isom. "Yes, Henie," said Mr. Clarkson, "he says so, but
will he not?" "Thomas," said Mrs. Clarkson, "I will take the
responsibility if you do as I ask you to; I will keep Isom around the
house and will assure you that he will not run away."
Mr. Clarkson wanted to lock Isom up very much, but he knew what a strong
will his wife had, and how hard it would be to get her right when she
had got wrong, hence he complied with her request. So Isom worked around
the house for a long time. The hunter was to rest a few days, and then
resume his work, but Mr. Clarkson wrote to him that his services would
be no longer needed, as the runaway slave whom he was employed to hunt
had returned himself. I never learned whether the hunter got paid for
what he had done.
MR. BLACK, THE SLAVE HUNTER.
There was a white man in Richland County, South Carolina, named Mr.
Black, who made his living by hunting runaway slaves. I knew him as well
as I did one of my fellow negroes on Col. Singleton's plantation. He was
of dark complexion, short stature, spare built, with long, jet black,
coarse hair. He bore the description of what some would call a good
man, but he was quite the reverse; he was one of the most heartless men
I have ever seen.
Mr. Black was a very successful hunter, although sometimes all of his
bloodhounds were killed by runaway slaves, and he barely escaped with
his life. He used to ride a small bay mare in hunting, which was the
only horse he owned. She was a thin, raw-boned creature and looked as
though she could hardly walk, but knew the business about as well as her
master; and in such troubles as above stated she used to carry him
pretty fast out of danger. Mr. Black caught several runaway slaves
belonging to Col. Singleton.
I have known him to chase runaway slaves out of the forest right through
the colonel's plantation, through a crowd of other negroes, and his dogs
would never mistake any among the crowd for the ones they were after.
When these hound dogs chased the runaways through farms in that way,
many of them were killed and buried in the cotton or corn field by some
among the crowd of negroes through which they passed. In general the
slaves hated bloodhounds, and would kill them any time they got a
chance, but especially on such occasions as above stated, to keep them
from capturing runaways.
Once eight slaves ran away from Col. Singleton's plantation, and Mr.
Black, with twenty-five hound dogs, was hired to hunt them up. The dogs
struck trail of the runaways late one afternoon, and chased them all
that night, during which time they got scattered. Next morning three of
the runaways were chased through a crowd of their fellow negroes, who
were working in the cotton field. While chasing the runaways some among
the crowd killed six of the dogs, including the two leading ones, and
buried them in the cotton beds or rows, as we used to call them.
Mr. Black, the hunter, though a mile or more off, knew that something
had happened from the irregular barking of the other dogs, and also
because he did not hear the yelling of the two leading dogs. So he blew
his horn, called the rest of his dogs, and gave up the chase until he
had replaced his leading dogs by others, which he always had on hand at
Slave hunters generally had one or two among the pack of hound dogs,
called trailers or leaders, which the others, fifty or more, were
trained to follow. So if anything happened to the leaders while on
chase, the rest would become confused, and could not follow the runaway.
But if the leaders were hurt or killed after the runaways were captured,
the rest would surround and guard them until the hunter reached them, as
he was always a mile or more behind.
After the leading dogs had been replaced, Mr. Black resumed the chase,
and caught some of the runaways, but the rest came home themselves.
The last runaway slave Mr. Black was hired to hunt belonged to Col. M.R.
Singleton, and was named Dick, but instead of Dick he caught a slave
belonging to a man in Sumterville county, who had been in the woods
seven years. This runaway slave had another name at home, but while in
the woods had assumed the name of Champion, for his success in keeping
slave hunters from capturing him up to that time.
Mr. Black, the hunter, chased Dick and Champion two days and nights; on
the morning before the capture of the latter they swam across the
Water-ree river. After they got across they were separated; the dogs
followed Champion, and ran him down that morning about eleven o'clock.
Champion had a gun and pistol; as the first dog ran up and opened his
mouth to take hold of him he discharged the contents of the pistol in
his mouth and killed him instantly. The rest of the dogs did not take
hold of him, but surrounded him and held him at bay until the hunter
reached the spot.
When Mr. Black rode up within gunshot, Champion aimed at him with a
loaded double barrel gun, but the caps of both barrels snapped from
being wet by running through the bushes. Mr. Black had a gun and pistol,
too; he attempted to shoot the negro, but William Turner, Col.
Singleton's overseer, who hired Mr. Black to hunt Dick, the runaway from
the colonel's plantation, would not let him do it. Mr. Black then
attempted to strike Champion with the breech of his gun, but Champion
kicked him down, and as he drew his knife to stab Mr. Black, Mr. Turner,
the overseer, struck him on the back of his head with the butt of a
loaded whip. This stunned him for a few moments, and by the time he had
regained his senses they had handcuffed him.
After the negro had been handcuffed, Mr. Black wanted to abuse him,
because he had killed the dog, and attempted to shoot him, but Mr.
Turner, the overseer, would not let him. Champion was taken to Col.
Singleton's plantation, locked up in the dungeon under the overseer's
house, and his master was notified of his capture; he was a mulatto
negro, and his master, who was his father, sent for him at Col.
Singleton's plantation; but I never learned whether Mr. Black, the
hunter, was ever paid for capturing him. Dick, the runaway negro from
Col. Singleton's place, came home himself sometime after Champion, his
companion, had been captured.
Mr. Black, the slave hunter, was very poor, and had a large family; he
had a wife, with eight or ten helpless children, whom I knew as well as
I did my fellow negroes on the colonel's plantation. But as cruel as Mr.
Black was to runaway slaves, his family was almost wholly supported by
negroes; I have known in some cases that they stole from their masters
to help this family. The negroes were so kind to Mr. Black's family that
his wife turned against him for his cruelty to runaway slaves.
I have stated that some of the masters and overseers hired the hunters,
on condition that they would capture and return the runaway slaves,
unbruised and untorn by their dogs; while others, in a mad fit of
passion, would say to them, "I want you to bring my runaway nigger home,
dead or alive."
All of the slave hunters used to practice cruelty upon the runaway
slaves; more especially upon those whose masters would say to hunters
"bring them dead or alive." But among all the slave hunters in the part
of South Carolina where the author of this work lived, Mr. Black was the
It was rumored that many of the runaway slaves that were never heard of
afterward, were captured and killed in the woods by Mr. Black, but no
special clue to this could be found. Finally Mr. Black was hired to
capture a runaway slave in Barnwell County, S.C. This slave was with
another, who was thought well of by his master, but hated by the
overseer. In the chase, the two runaways separated, and the dogs
followed the second instead of the one whom Mr. Black had been hired to
hunt. Mr. Black had another hunter with him by the name of Motley. The
negro killed several of the dogs, and gave Messrs. Black and Motley a
hard fight. After the negro had been captured, they killed him, cut him
up and gave his remains to the living dogs.
The companion of the murdered slave was not caught. A few days after the
chase, while wandering around in the wood in a somewhat excited state,
he came to a spot where the bushes and leaves seemed to have been in a
stirred-up condition, as though there had been tussling by two parties.
On looking around in this disordered spot, he found pieces of clothing
here and there in rags, looking just like the suit worn by his
companion, who was then a victim of a most cruel death from the hands of
the hunters. On closer examination, he saw spots of blood here and there
upon the leaves, which awakened his suspicion; on looking a little way
from this spot, he saw some leaves which looked as though they had been
moved by hands and put there, and on removing the leaves, he found that
the earth had been freshly dug and filled in again. Digging down in the
spot, he soon discovered pieces of the person of a dead man, whom he
could not identify, but was satisfied that it was the remains of his
companion, from whom he had been compelled to separate a few days
before. This sight frightened the runaway negro so, that he left the
woods, went home to his master and told the story; but as a negro's
word was not to be taken against a white man's in the days of slavery,
no special notice was taken of what he had said. Still some of the white
people were secretly watching Mr. Black, the slave hunter, as he had
been before suspected of killing runaway slaves in the woods.
The master of the murdered negro was still ignorant of his death; he was
in hopes that his slave would return. But finding that his slave did not
return as expected, the master became uneasy, and offered a reward to
any one who could give a clue of his negro. In the meantime, he
discharged the overseer who had been the cause of his slave running
away; and he also kept the overseer's salary of four hundred dollars,
which was the annual pay for overseering his plantation.
Mr. Black's house was in Richland county, and as he was the last who had
hunted runaway slaves in Barnwell county before the murder, suspicion
rested on him. Still no one said anything to him, but he was very
closely watched by men of his own county, whose interest was not in the
hatefulness of the crime committed, but rather in the reward offered by
the master to any who could give information of his runaway slave.
Sometime after the case had occurred, another white man of Richland
county became quite a friend to Mr. Black, the slave hunter; this
apparent friendship soon led Mr. Black to tell the secret, which
speedily brought him to trial. While he and his pretended friend were on
a drinking spree, in the midst of the merriment,--of course the
conversation was how to control negroes, as that was the principal
topic of the poor white men South, in the days of slavery.
In the conversation, this friend spoke of several plans which he said,
if properly carried out, "would keep a nigger in his place." After the
friend had said so much to Mr. Black, the slave hunter, the latter felt
that he could tell his secret without endangering himself, so he
answered: "The way to show a nigger that would resist a white man, his
place, is to put him among the missing. Not long since, I went to
Barnwell county to hunt a runaway nigger, and my dogs struck trail of
another instead of the one I wanted to capture. After quite a long chase
my dogs ran him down, and before I reached him he killed several of
them, and gave me a hard fight when I got to him. Motley and I were
together; I shot him down, and Motley and I cut him up and gave the
pieces to the remainder of my dogs; that is the way I put a nigger in
After the secret had been revealed, Mr. Black's friend excused himself,
and the former saw him no more until he appeared as a witness against
him. The companion of the murdered negro was summoned to carry the
investigating party, including the murderer, to the spot where his
companion had been buried.
Mr. Black was tried and found to be guilty. After sentence had been
passed, he confessed the commission of that crime, and also told that he
had killed several runaway negroes previously in his own county. So Mr.
Black and Motley, his companion, were both hanged in Barnwell county,
S.C. The system of slavery outlived Mr. Black, the slave hunter, just
MANNING BROWN AND AUNT BETTY.
A man by the name of Manning Brown was nursed by an old colored woman he
called mamma Betty. She was naturally good natured and a devout
Christian, and Mr. Brown gained many of her good qualities when he was
under her entire control, at which time he was said to be a boy of very
fine sense of feeling and quite promising. But when approaching manhood
Mr. Brown fell among a class of other white men who, in the days of
slavery, were unbridled in their habits. With this class of men he began
to drink, and step by step in this rapid stride he soon became a
confirmed drunkard. This habit so over-coated the good influence he had
gained from the colored woman, that it rendered him dangerous not only
to his enemies, but also to his friends.
Manning Brown was feared by most of the other white men in Richland
county, S.C., and, strange to say, although he was dangerous to white
men, yet he never lost the respect he had for colored people in his
boyhood days. He ate, drank and slept among colored people after he was
a grown man, and in many cases when other white men, who were called
patrols, caught colored people away from home without tickets, and were
about to whip them, Mr. Brown would ride up and say, "The first man who
raises a whip at one of those negroes I will blow his brains out."
Knowing that he would shoot a man as quick as he would a bird, even if
ten patrols were together, when Mr. Brown made such threats, they never
would attempt to whip the negroes.
Mr. Brown owned a plantation with forty slaves on it; his good treatment
of them enabled him to get more work out of them than most owners got
out of their slaves. His slaves thought so much of their "Massa
Manning," as they used to call him, that they did everything in their
power to please him. But while he was so good to colored people, he was
dangerous to many of the white people and feared by them.
A man by the name of Peter Gafney fought a duel with his brother-in-law,
whose name was Dr. Kay; the former, who was quite a marksman, was killed
by the latter, who was considered a very poor one. This led many who
were in favor of Mr. Gafney to feel that there had been foul play by Dr.
Ray, the contestant. Mr. Brown, who acted as a second for Mr. Gafney in
the fight, felt the loss of his old friend very deeply. A short time
after this he sent a challenge to Dr. Ray, stating, "You may either meet
me at a certain time, on the spot where you killed P.T. Gafney, for a
duel, or I will shoot you on first sight wherever I meet you. Yours, M.
But Dr. Ray refused in the face of the threat to accept the challenge.
Knowing the disposition of Mr. Brown, the people in that county were
inflamed with excitement, because the doctor was liable at any moment
while riding in the road to be killed. In fear of meeting Mr. Brown, the
doctor gave up visiting the most of his sick patients, and almost wholly
confined himself to his large plantation. At the same time Mr. Brown was
closely watched by his friends to keep him from waylaying the doctor.
A short time after this threat Mr. Brown commenced to drink harder than
ever, so that at times he did not know his own family. But the
providence of God was slowly leading Mr. Brown through the unknown
paths to a sudden change of life, as we shall soon see.
Mr. Brown's family consisted of a wife, one child, and Aunt Betty, the
old colored woman who had brought him up. She was the only mother he
knew, for his own mother had died when he was an infant, and her dying
request had been that mamma Betty, the old woman, should bring up this
boy, who was an only child; and when Mr. Brown got married he took Aunt
Betty into his family and told her she need not do any work only what
she chose to do, and that he would take care of her the balance of her
days. And Mrs. Brown regarded Aunt Betty more as a mother-in-law than as
a negress servant. Sometimes when Mr. Brown would not listen to his
wife, he would to his mamma Betty, when he was sober enough to know her.
One afternoon, while Mr. Brown was in one of those drunken fits, he went
into his bedroom and lay down across the bed, talking to himself. His
wife went in to speak to him, but as she entered he jumped up and got
his loaded double barrelled gun and threatened to shoot her. Frightened
at this, she ran out of the room and screamed saying, "Oh my God, mamma
Betty, please go in and speak to your Massa Manning, for he threatened
to shoot me." With that old familiar confidence in one who had often
listened to her advice, Aunt Betty went into the house and to the room
where she found Mr. Brown lying across the bed, with the gun by his
side. On entering the room, as she was advancing toward the bed, she
said, "Massa Manning, what is the matter with you? You naughty boy, what
is the matter?" On saying these words, before she had reached the bed,
Mr. Brown rose, with the gun in hand, and discharged the contents of
both barrels at the old woman; she dropped instantly to the floor. Mr.
Brown lay across the bed as before, with the gun by his side, talking to
himself, and soon dropped to sleep. Mrs. Brown fainted away several
times under the excitement.
Aunt Betty lived about an hour. Soon after she had been shot she wanted
to see Mr. Brown, but when told that she could not, she said, "O, my
Lord, I wanted to see my child before I die, and I know that he would
want to see his mamma Betty, too, before she leaves him." During the
time she lived she prayed for Mr. Brown, and requested that he would
change his course of life, become a Christian, and meet her in heaven.
After singing one of her familiar hymns, Aunt Betty said to some one who
stood by her bedside, "I want you to tell Massa Manning that he must not
feel bad for what he did to me, because I know that if he was in his
right mind he would not hurt me any more than he would himself. Tell him
that I have prayed to the Lord for him that he may be a good boy, and I
want him to promise that he will be a Christian and meet me in heaven."
With these words Aunt Betty became speechless, dying a few moments
afterwards. The doctor was sent for, but had to come from such a
distance that she died before he reached there.
When Mr. Brown awoke from his drunken state in the night, and learned
the sad news of Aunt Betty's death, of which he had been the cause, he
clasped his hands and cried out, "What! is it possible that my mamma
Betty, the only mother I ever knew, was killed by my hands?" He ran into
the room where the corpse was and clasped the remains of the old negress
in his arms and cried, "Mamma Betty, mamma Betty, please speak to me as
you used to." But that voice was hushed in death.
The doctor, overseer and others tried to quiet him, but they could not.
That night Mr. Brown took the train to Columbia, the capital of South
Carolina, and gave himself up to the law next day. He was told that it
was all right; that the old negress was his slave. But Mr. Brown was
dissatisfied; he came back home and invited all the white neighbors and
slaves to Aunt Betty's funeral, in which he and his family took part.
After the excitement was over the message of Aunt Betty was delivered to
Mr. Brown; he was told that her last request had been that he would meet
her in heaven. He answered, "I will." Mr. Brown then and there took an
oath that he would drink no more strong drinks. He then disposed of his
slaves, but how I did not learn. Soon after this he was converted and
became one of the ablest preachers in Richland county, S.C. Mr. Brown's
conversion freed Dr. Ray from his threat. The doctor was so glad of this
that he paid quite a large sum towards Mr. Brown's salary for
CHAPTER III.--MY EXPERIENCE IN THE CIVIL WAR.
My knowledge of the Civil War, extends from the time when the first gun
was fired on Fort Sumter in April, 1861, to the close of the War.
While the slaves were not pressed into the Confederate service as
soldiers, yet they were used in all the slave-holding states at war
points, not only to build fortifications, but also to work on vessels
used in the war.
The slaves were gathered in each state, anywhere from 6000 to 8000 or
more, from different plantations, carried to some centre and sent to
various war points in the state.
It would be impossible to describe the intense excitement which
prevailed among the Confederates in their united efforts to raise troops
to meet the Union forces. They were loud in their expressions of the
certainty of victory.
Many of the poor white men were encouraged by the promise of from three
to five negroes to each man who would serve in the Confederate service,
when the Confederate government should have gained the victory.
On the other hand, the negroes were threatened with an increase of the
galling yoke of slavery. These threats were made with significant
expressions, and the strongest assumption that the negro was the direct
cause of the war.
HOW SLAVES WERE GATHERED AND CARRIED TO WAR POINTS.
No sooner had the war commenced in the spring of 1861, than the slaves
were gathered from the various plantations, and shipped by freight cars,
or boats, to some centre, and apportioned out and sent to work at
different war points. I do not know just how many slaves the Confederate
Government required each master to furnish for its service, but I know
that 15 of the 465 slaves on my master's, Col. M.E. Singleton's,
plantation, were sent to work on fortifications each year during the
The war had been going on two years before my turn came. In the summer
of 1863 with thousands of other negroes, gathered from the various parts
of the state, I was freighted to the city of Charleston, South Carolina,
and the group in which my lot fell was sent to Sullivan's Island. We
were taken on a boat from the city of Charleston, and landed in a little
village, situated nearly opposite Fort Sumter, on this island. Leaving
behind us Fort Moultrie, Fort Beauregard, and several small batteries,
we marched down the white sandy beach of the island, below Fort
Marshall, to the very extreme point, where a little inlet of water
divides Sullivan's from Long Island, and here we were quartered under
Capt. Charles Haskell.
From this point on the island, turning our faces northward, with Morris
Island northwest of us, and looking directly north out into the channel,
we saw a number of Union gun boats, like a flock of black sheep feeding
on a plain of grass; while the men pacing their decks looked like
faithful shepherds watching the flock. While we negroes remained upon
Sullivan's Island, we watched every movement of the Union fleet, with
hearts of joy to think that they were a part of the means by which the
liberty of four and one-half millions of slaves was to be effected in
accordance with the emancipation proclamation made the January
preceding. We kept such close watch upon them that some one among us,
whether it was night or day, would be sure to see the discharge of a
shot from the gun boat before the sound of the report was heard. During
that summer there was no engagement between the Union fleet and the
Confederates at that point in South Carolina. The Union gun boats,
however, fired occasional shots over us, six miles, into the city of
Charleston. They also fired a few shells into a marsh between Sullivan's
Island and Mount Pleasant, but with no damage to us.
WHAT WORK THE NEGROES DID ON THE ISLAND.
After we had reached the island, our company was divided. One part was
quartered at one end of the Island, around Fort Moultrie, and we were
quartered at the other end, at Fort Marshall. Our work was to repair
forts, build batteries, mount guns, and arrange them. While the men were
engaged at such work, the boys of my age, namely, thirteen, and some
older, waited on officers and carried water for the men at work, and in
general acted as messengers between different points on the island.
ENGAGEMENT ON LONG ISLAND.
Though there was no fighting on Sullivan's Island during my stay there,
Confederate soldiers at times crossed the inlet from Sullivan's to Long
Island, in the night and engaged in skirmishes with Union soldiers, who
had entered the upper end of that island and camped there. Whether
these Confederate scouts were ever successful in routing the Union
forces on the island or not I have never learned, but I know that they
were several times repulsed with considerable loss.
The way the Confederates came to the knowledge that Union soldiers were
on Long Island was that the group of negroes who preceded us on
Sullivan's Island had found out that Union soldiers were camping on the
upper end of Long Island. So one night quite a number of them escaped by
swimming across the inlet that divides Sullivan's Island and Long
Island, and succeeded in reaching the Union line.
The next day it was discovered that they had swam across the inlet, and
the following night they were pursued by a number of Confederate scouts
who crossed in a flat boat. Instead of the capture of the negroes, who
would have been victims of the most cruel death, the Confederate scouts
were met by soldiers from the Union line, and after a hot engagement
they were repulsed, as they usually were.
BUILDING A BATTERY ON LONG ISLAND.
Finally the Confederates took a large number of the group of which I was
a member from Sullivan's to the south shore of Long Island and there
built a battery, and mounted several small field guns upon it. As they
were afraid of being discovered in the daytime we were obliged to work
on the battery nights and were taken back to Sullivan's in the morning,
until the work was completed.
We were guarded by Confederate soldiers while building the battery, as,
without a guard it would have been easy for any of us to have reached
the Union line on the north end of Long Island. Sullivan's Island was
about five miles long.
A NEGRO SERVANT MURDERED.
One of the most heartless deeds committed while I was on Sullivan's
Island, was that of the murder of a negro boy by his master, a
Confederate officer to whom the boy had been a body servant. What the
rank of this officer was I am not sure, but I think he was a Major, and
that he was from the state of Georgia. It was a common thing for
southern men to carry dirks, especially during the war. This officer had
one, and for something the boy displeased him in, he drew the knife and
made a fatal stab between the boy's collar bone and left shoulder. As
the victim fell at the brutal master's feet, we negroes who had
witnessed the fiendish and cowardly act upon a helpless member of our
race, expected an immediate interference from the hand of justice in
some form or other. But we looked and waited in vain, for the horrible
deed did not seem to have changed the manner of those in authority in
the least, but they rather treated it as coolly as though nothing had
happened. Finding that the Confederates failed to lay the hand of
justice upon the officer, we, with our vague ideas of moral justice, and
with our extreme confidence that God would somehow do more for the
oppressed negroes than he would ordinarily for any other people,
anxiously waited a short time for some token of Divine vengeance, but
as we found that no such token as we desired, in the heat of our
passion, came, we finally concluded to wait God's way and time, as to
how, and when this, as every other wrong act, should be visited with his
But aside from this case we fared better on these fortifications than we
had at home on the plantations. This was the case at least with those of
us who were on Sullivan's Island. Our work in general on the
fortifications was not hard, we had a great deal of spare time, and
although we knew that our work in the Confederate service was against
our liberty, yet we were delighted to be in military service.
We felt an exalted pride that, having spent a little time at these war
points, we had gained some knowledge which would put us beyond our
fellow negroes at home on the plantations, while they would increase our
pride by crediting us with far more knowledge than it was possible for
us to have gained.
Our daily rations from the Commissary was a quart of rice or hard-tack,
and a half pound of salt pork or corn-beef.
The change from the cabins and from the labor on the old plantations so
filled our cup of joy that we were sorry when the two months of our stay
on the island was ended.
At the end of about two months, I, with the rest of my fellow negroes of
that group, was sent back to the plantation again, while others took our
MY EXPERIENCE IN FORT SUMTER.
In the summer of 1864, when I was in my fourteenth year, another call
was made for negro laborers for the Confederate government, and fifteen
from our plantation, including myself, with thousands from other
plantations, were sent down to Charleston again.
There the negroes were apportioned in groups to be sent to the different
fortifications. My lot fell among the group of three hundred and sixty,
who were assigned to Fort Sumter. I shall never forget with what care
they had to move in carrying us in a steamer from the government wharf
in Charleston to John's island wharf, on account of the network of
torpedo mines in Charleston Harbor.
From John's island wharf they carried us in rowboats to Fort Sumter,
and, as those boats could not carry many, it took all night to convey us
with other freightage to Fort Sumter.
The steamer which carried us from Charleston to John's island wharf had
to run at night. Indeed every move the Confederates made about there
near the close of the war had to be made at night because the Yankees on
gunboats outside the channel and those on Morris island kept so close a
watch it was very dangerous to convey us from John's island wharf to
Fort Sumter because the oars dipping into the salt water at night made
sparks like fire, and thus the Yankees on Morris island were able to see
us. Indeed their shots oftentimes took effect.
Many of the negroes were killed. Of the fifteen from our plantation, one
boy of about my age was struck by a parrot shell while climbing from the
boat into the fort. We were told of the perils we were to meet, both
before and after we reached our destination. For one of the most
disheartening things was the sad report of the survivors of those whose
places we were to fill. As the rowboats left them on John's island wharf
and as we were about to embark they told us of the great danger to which
we would be exposed,--of the liability of some of us being killed before
we reached the fort, which proved true, and of how fast their comrades
were killed in Fort Sumter. A number, it was said, died from fright
before reaching Sumter.
THE OFFICERS AND QUARTERS.
The officers who were then in command of the fort were Capt. J.C.
Mitchell and Major John Johnson. The name of the overseer in charge of
the negroes in the fort was Deburgh,--whether that was his right name I
can not say.
Deburgh was a foreigner by birth. He was one of the most cruel men I
ever knew. As he and his atrocious deeds will come up later in this
history, I will say no more of him here.
CONDITION OF THE FORT.
Fort Sumter, which previous to this, had not only been silenced by the
Union forces, but also partly demolished, had but one gun mounted on it,
on the west side. That cannon we used to call the "Sundown Gun," because
it was fired every evening as the sun went down,--as well as at sunrise.
On this west side the Confederate officers and soldiers were sheltered
in the bomb-proof safe during bombardment. On the east side of the fort,
facing Morris island, opposite Fort Wagner, there was another apartment
called the "Rat-hole" in which we negroes were quartered.
WHAT THE NEGROES DID IN FORT SUMTER.
Fort Sumter had been so badly damaged by the Union forces in 1863, that
unless something had been done upon the top, the continued bombardment
which it suffered up to the close of the war, would have rendered it
The fort was being fired upon every five minutes with mortar and parrot
shells by the Yankees from Morris Island.
The principal work of the negroes was to secure the top and other parts
against the damage from the Union guns.
Large timbers were put on the rampart of the fort, and boards laid on
them, then baskets, without bottoms, about two feet wide, and four feet
high, were put close together on the rampart, and filled with sand by
The work could only be done at night, because, besides the bombardment
from Fort Wagner which was about a mile or little less from us, there
were also sharp-shooters there who picked men off whenever they showed
their heads on the rampart.
The mortar and parrot shells rained alternately upon Fort Sumter every
five minutes, day and night, but the sharp-shooters could only fire by
The negroes were principally exposed to the bombardment. The only time
the few Confederate soldiers were exposed to danger was while they were
putting the Chevaldefrise on the parapet at night.
The "Chevaldefrise" is a piece of timber with wooden spikes pointed with
iron, and used for defence on fortifications.
In the late war between the Spaniards and the Americans, the former
used barbed wire for the same purpose.
If my readers could have been in Fort Sumter in the summer of 1864 they
would have heard the sentinel cry, every five minutes, "Look out!
Mortar!" Then they would have seen the negroes running about in the fort
yard in a confused state, seeking places of safety from the missile sure
to bring death to one or more of them. Another five minutes, and again
the cry of the sentinel, "Look out," means a parrot shell, which is far
more deadly than is the mortar because it comes so quickly that one has
no chance to seek a place of safety.
The next moment the survivors of us, expecting that it would be our turn
next, would be picking up, here and there, parts of the severed bodies
of our fellow negroes; many of those bodies so mutilated as not to be
DEBURGH, THE OVERSEER.
Deburgh, the overseer, of whom I have spoken, was a small man, of light
complexion, and very light hair.
If my readers could have been in Fort Sumter in July, 1864, they would
have seen Deburgh with a small bar of iron or a piece of shell in his
hand, forcing the surviving portion of the negroes back into line and
adding to these, other negroes kept in the Rat-hole as reserves to fill
the places of those who were killed and wounded.
They would also have heard him swearing at the top of his voice, while
forcing the negroes to rearrange themselves in line from the base of the
fort to the top.
This arrangement of the negroes, enabled them to sling to each other the
bags of sand which was put in the baskets on the top of the fort. My
readers ask, what was the sand put on the fort for? It was to smother
the fuses of such shells as reached the ramparts before bursting.
After the bombardment of Port Sumter in 1863, by the Union forces, its
top of fourteen or sixteen feet in thickness, built of New Hampshire
granite, was left bare. From that time all through 1864, the shells were
so aimed as to burst right over the fort; and it was pieces of these
shells which flew in every direction that were so destructive.
The fuses of many of these shells fired on Port Sumter did not burn in
time to cause the shells to burst before falling. Now as the shells fell
on the rampart of the fort instead of falling and bursting on the stone,
they buried themselves harmlessly in the sand, which put out the fuse
and also kept them from bursting.
But while the destruction of life was lessened by the sand, it was fully
made up by the hand of that brute, the overseer. God only knows how many
negroes he killed in Port Sumter under the shadow of night. Every one he
reached, while forcing the slaves back into working position after they
had been scattered by the shells, he would strike on the head with the
piece of iron he carried in his hand, and, as his victim fell, would cry
out to some other negro, "Put that fellow in his box," meaning his
Whether the superior officers in Fort Sumter knew that Deburgh was
killing the negroes off almost as fast as the shells from Fort Wagner,
or whether they did not know, and did not care, I never have learned.
But I have every reason to believe that one of them at least, namely,
Major John Johnson, would not have allowed such a wholesale slaughter,
had he known. On the other hand I believe that Capt. J.C. Mitchell was
not only mean enough to have allowed it, but that he was fully as
Whatever became of Deburgh, whether he was killed in Fort Sumter or not,
I never knew.
OUR SUPERIOR OFFICERS.
The two officers in command of Fort Sumter in July of 1864 were Capt.
J.C. Mitchell, and Major John Johnson.
Major Johnson was as kind, gentle, and humane to the negroes as could
have been expected.
On the other hand, the actions of Capt. Mitchell were harsh and very
cruel. He had a bitter hatred toward the Yankees, and during the rain of
shells on Fort Sumter, he sought every opportunity to expose the negroes
to as much danger as he dared.
I remember that one night Capt. Mitchell ordered us outside of Fort
Sumter to a projection of the stone-bed upon which the Fort was built,
right in front of Fort Wagner. At that place we were in far greater
danger from the deadly missiles of the Union forces than we were exposed
to on the inside of Sumter, and I could see no other reasons for his
ordering us outside of the fort that night than that we might be killed
It seems that during the incessant firing on Fort Sumter the officers
held a consultation as to whether it was not best to evacuate the fort.
It was at this time that it was rumored,--a rumor that we had every
reason to believe,--that Capt. Mitchell plotted to lock us negroes up in
our quarters in Sumter, known as the Rat-hole; and put powder to it and
arrange it so that both the negroes and the Yankees should be blown up,
when the latter should have taken possession after the evacuation of the
fort by the Confederates.
But we learned that Major John Johnson, who has since become an
Episcopal minister, in Charleston, S.C., wholly refused to agree with
Capt. Mitchell in such a barbarous and cowardly act, and, as though
Providence were watching over the innocent and oppressed negroes, and
over the Yankees as well, because they were fighting in a righteous
cause, Capt. Mitchell's career and further chances of carrying out his
cruel intentions were cut short. He was mortally wounded by the
sharp-shooters of Fort Wagner, on the 14th of July, 1864, and died four
OUR RATIONS IN SUMTER.
The working forces of negroes in Sumter with the exception of the boys
who carried messages to the different parts of the fort day and night,
were locked up days, and turned out nights, to work. We drew our rations
of hard-tack and salt pork twice a day; mornings when we ceased work and
turned in for the day, and again, between three and four o'clock in the
afternoon, so as to have supper eaten in time to go to work at dark.
We often ate our salt pork raw with the hard-tack, as there were no
special means of cooking in the negroes' apartment. We were not only in
danger, while at work, from the continued rain of shells, but
oftentimes when we were put in line to draw our rations some of us were
killed or wounded.
I cannot say how they got fresh water in Fort Sumter, as I do not
remember seeing any brought there in boats, neither did I notice any
conveniences there for the catching of rain water.
The water we negroes used was kept in large hogsheads with coal tar in
them; I do not know what the tar was put in the water for unless it was
for our health. The "rat-hole" into which we were locked, was like a
sweat box; it was so hot and close, that, although we were exposed to
death by shells when we were turned out to work, we were glad to get
into the fresh air.
We had little cups in which they used to give us whiskey mornings when
we went in, and again when we were going out to work at night.
I don't know how many of the forty survivors of the three hundred and
sixty of us who were carried into the Fort in the summer of 1864 besides
myself are still alive. But if there are any with the keen tenderness of
a negro, they cannot help joining me in an undying sense of gratitude to
Major John Johnson, not only for his kind and gentle dealings with us
which meant so much to a negro in the days of slavery, but also for his
humane protection, which saved us from some of the danger from shells to
which we were exposed in Sumter.
A short time after Capt. J.C. Mitchell had been killed, Major Johnson
was dangerously wounded in the head by a piece of shell.
MY LAST NIGHT IN FORT SUMTER AND THE GLORIOUS END OF THE WAR.
During the time we spent in Fort Sumter we had not seen a clear day or
night. In harmony with the continual danger by which we were surrounded,
the very atmosphere wore the pall of death; for it was always rainy and
cloudy. The mutilated bodies of the negroes, mingled with the black mud
and water in the fort yard, added to the awfulness of the scene. Pieces
of bombshells and other pieces of iron, and also large southern pine
timbers were scattered all over the yard of the fort. There was also a
little lime house in the middle of the yard, into which we were warned
not to go when seeking places of safety from the deadly missiles at the
cry of the sentinel.
The orders were that we should get as near the centre of the fort yard
as possible and lie down. The reason for this was that the shells which
were fired upon Sumter were so measured that they would burst in the
air, and the pieces would generally fly toward the sides of the fort.
But the orders were not strictly carried out, because, at the warning
cries of the sentinel, we became confused. That night, at the cry of the
sentinel, I ran and lay down on one of the large southern pine timbers,
and several of my fellow negroes followed and piled in upon me. Their
weight was so heavy that I cried out as for life. The sense of that
crush I feel at certain times even now.
At the next report of a shell I ran toward the lime house, but some one
tripped me up, and, by the time I had got to my feet again, twelve or
thirteen others were crowded into it. Another negro and I reached the
doorway, but we were not more than there before a mortar shell came
crushing down upon the little lime house, and all within were so mangled
that their bodies were not recognizable.
Only we two were saved. My companion had one of his legs broken, and a
piece of shell had wounded me over my right eye and cut open my under
lip. At the moment I was wounded I was not unconscious, but I did not
know what had hurt me. I became almost blind from the effect of my
wounds, but not directly after I was wounded, and I felt no pain for a
day or so. With other wounded I was taken to the bombproof in the fort.
I shall never forget this first and last visit to the hospital
department. To witness the rough handling of the wounded patients, to
see them thrown on a table as one would a piece of beef, and to see the
doctor use his knife and saw, cutting off a leg, or arm, and sometimes
both, with as much indifference as if he were simply cutting up beef,
and to hear the doctor say, of almost every other one of these victims,
after a leg or an arm was amputated, "Put that fellow in his box,"
meaning his coffin, was an awful experience. After the surgeon had asked
to whom I belonged, he dressed my wounds.
My readers will remember that I stated that no big boat could run to
Fort Sumter at that time, on account of the bombardment. We had to be
conveyed back to John's Island wharf in rowboats, which was the nearest
distance a steamer could go to Fort Sumter.
As one of those rowboats was pushed out to take the dead and wounded
from the fort, and as the for men were put into the boat, which was
generally done before they put in the latter, fortunately, just before
the wounded were put in, a Parrott shell was fired into it from Fort
Wagner by the Union forces, which sunk both the boat and the coffins,
with their remains.
My readers would ask how the Confederates disposed of the negroes who
were killed in Fort Sumter. Those who were not too badly mutilated were
sent over to the city of Charleston and were buried in a place which was
set apart to bury the negroes. But others, who were so badly cut up by
shells, were put into boxes, with pieces of iron in them, and carried
out a little away from Sumter and thrown overboard.
I was then taken to John's Island wharf, and from there to the city of
Charleston in a steamer, and carried to Doctor Rag's hospital, where I
stopped until September. Then I was sent back home to my master's
plantation. Quoting the exact words of Major John Johnson, a Confederate
officer under whom I was a part of the time at the above-named place, I
would say: "July 7th, Fort Sumter's third great bombardment, lasting
sixty days and nights, with a total of 14,666 rounds fired at the fort,
with eighty-one casualties."
WHAT TOOK PLACE AFTER.
I said that after I got well enough to travel I was sent back home to my
master's plantation, about a hundred miles from the city of Charleston,
in central South Carolina. This was in September of 1864, and I, with
the rest of my fellow-negroes on this extensive plantation, and with
other slaves all over the South, were held in suspense waiting the
final outcome of the emancipation proclamation, issued January, 1863,
but as the war continued, it had not taken effect until the spring of
Here I had less work than before the war, for the nearer the war
approached its close the less the slaves had to do, as the masters were
at the end of their wits what to do. In the latter part of 1864 Gen.
Sherman, with his army of a hundred thousand men and almost as many
stragglers, covered the space of about sixty miles in width while
marching from Georgia through South Carolina. The army camped around
Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, for a short time. Early in the
spring of 1865 the commissary building first took fire, which soon
spread to such extent that the whole city of Columbia was consumed; just
a few houses on the suburbs were left.
The commissary building was set on fire by one of the two parties, but
it was never fully settled whether it was done by Gen. Sherman's men or
by the Confederates, who might have, as surmised by some, as they had to
evacuate the city, set it on fire to keep Gen. Sherman's men from
getting the food. After this Columbia was occupied by a portion of
Sherman's men, while the others marched on toward North Carolina.
THE GLORIOUS END.
In closing this brief sketch of my experiences in the war, I would ask
my readers to go back of the war a little with me. I want to show them a
few of the dark pictures of the slave system. Hark! I hear the clanking
of the ploughman's chains in the fields; I hear the tramping of the feet
of the hoe-hands. I hear the coarse and harsh voice of the negro driver
and the shrill voice of the white overseer swearing at the slaves. I
hear the swash of the lash upon the backs of the unfortunates; I hear
them crying for mercy from the merciless. Amidst these cruelties I hear
the fathers and mothers pour out their souls in prayer,--"O, Lord, how
long!" and their cries not only awaken the sympathy of their white
brothers and sisters of the North, but also mightily trouble the slave
masters of the South.
The firing on Fort Sumter, in April of 1861, brought hope to the slaves
that the long looked for year of jubilee was near at hand. And though
the South won victory after victory, and the Union reeled to and fro
like a drunken man, the negroes never lost hope, but faithfully
supported the Union cause with their prayers.
Thank God, where Christianity exists slavery cannot exist.
At last came freedom. And what joy it brought! I am now standing, in
imagination, on a high place just outside the city of Columbia, in the
spring of 1865. The stars and stripes float in the air. The sun is just
making its appearance from behind the hills, and throwing its beautiful
light upon green bush and tree. The mocking birds and jay birds sing
this morning more sweetly than ever before. Beneath the flag of liberty
there is congregated a perfect network of the emancipated slaves from
the different plantations, their swarthy faces, from a distance, looking
like the smooth water of a black sea. Their voices, like distant
thunder, rend the air,--
"Old master gone away, and the darkies all at home,
There must be now the kingdom come and the year of jubilee."
The old men and women, bent over by reason of age and servitude, bound
from their staves, praising God for deliverance.
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